Tag: conflict

For Those Who Suck at Family, and The Rest who Think They Don’t

Growing up, my mom always told my sisters and I you should never say, “shut up.” Instead, the polite term is, “be quiet.” I agree, I really do, but this has gotten out of hand, and sometimes you have to say what you have to say…

So, whoever you are, “shut up” already with all this “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” garbage!

Pastor after pastor, ministry after ministry, book after book, article after article, all driving the hoop with the same game, “what you are doing in your family life isn’t good enough, so you need to do more of this and less of that.” Learn this strategy, follow these principles, take these steps. Get your spiritual pom-poms on for the family cheer and whistle your act together; pray harder, get to church, buy the devotion books, serve more, set goals, smile wider, find a mission trip.

What? You haven’t had a family mission trip together? What the hell is wrong with you people? Some kind of Jesus-family you are.

Quick, you better take that beach photo with everyone dressed in white, photoshop in a Bible verse at the bottom, post it on Facebook, and get with the program already, because “we need to build stronger families for Jesus.”

Well, if I hear one more person spew that cut-and-pasted, spiritual vomit from their pie hole, I am going to a have small farm animal. No, I really am. Perfect, candle-lit dinner tables with linen placemats where all the kids are smiling, and dad has the leather bound Bible in his hands for the evening devotion just before mom serenades in with the steaming casserole she labored at all day.

Are you kidding me? Somebody, gag me with a multi-colored pitch fork. Do it now.

People who know me, know that I am all about family, but this image and pursuit we have created of a so-called “Christian” family looks not only ridiculously cheesy, but actually is the very thing that is eroding families, ironically. And we haven’t even talked about extended family relationships… oh yah, those can be fun.

See, it all looks and sounds so spiritual. Everyone appears to be behaving, praying, getting along, serving, lifting up a whole bunch of glory to the Lord. “We’re just giving all we have to Jesus as a family.” (That last sentence reads better if you do so with a southern accent)

The truth is, nobody is pulling this off. And the sad part is, everybody knows it but the people trying. At some level, we all suck at family. And to be honest, I actually think Jesus is pretty much o.k. with it. He knows what it’s like to have a real family. A family tattooed with rough edges, blind spots and a strong dosage of drama.  One that is not all put together and edited for Christian primetime. One that hasn’t been so Christianized with a two story house, white picket fence, a dog named Spot, a bible on every coffee table, Friday night family devotions, SUV’s stickered with every “Upward” sports possibility, and all the family challenges and adversities getting wrapped up in a nice little, Evangelical-approved, faith-packaged conclusion.

We live in the age of the performance-driven, appearance-ladened Christian. And sadly, many a tribe have drunk the Koolaid. There are a whole lot of families and family members dying on the inside cause deep down they know they don’t have it, and they can’t do it… this photoshop, Pinterest-perfect, magazine-cover Christian family thing.  Nobody does, and nobody can.

That’s why it’s time to get real, for realsies.

We all suck at family.

There are moments where we love the idea of spending time with our kids much more than the actually event of doing so. Jacked up on anxiety, we sit down at the Thanksgiving dinner with cousins, uncles, sisters, and brothers, secretly desiring to sabotage the person sitting across from us, if not to completely strangle them. We don’t like them one bit, and that’s pretty much all there is to it, no matter how much we say we “pray for them.” We’re smiling on the outside, but shaking hands with jealousy on the inside. We want to look forward to tucking our kids in with a story, baking birthday cakes, and driving to after school programs, but we don’t always. In fact, sometimes we resent it and even detest it. We look at other people’s family lives and wish we had theirs. Deep down, we wonder if we will ever measure up, and dread the idea of people hearing our secret thoughts and seeing our concealed imperfections. What if they peered through the curtains into our real doubts, heard our unedited arguments, viewed the x-ray of our thoughts? Some of which, are disturbing at best and certainly disqualifying of us from the Christian family vibe we so want everybody to believe we’re sporting.

The truth is, we spend a lot of time putting lipstick on the pig of our family lives. Sadly, because our Christian culture has groomed us that way.

In fact, if we are honest, a good bit of what we do as parents and family members is all for one thing… show. To prove to God, ourselves, and others that we are faithful, worthy, and successful in our family lives. Look at me, look at us, we’re doing it, we’ve got it!

On writer in the Scriptures discovered a life-changing awareness… “the Law entices us to sin.”  The more we try to meet standards, the more we fail to meet them. It’s even evil to think we can. In our family life and relationships, trying and striving to “be better” and “do better” never works. Our performance always breaks down at some point, leaving us with only one option, pretending to be something we aren’t. And that my friends, is hell.

I’m here to tell you, pretending is the breakfast of the religious. You don’t need to stage your family song and dance. God’s Grace is sufficient. Stop pulling the strings and choosing the choices motivated to somehow create an acceptable, admirable impression in the eyes of everybody else. Who gives a rip what they think?  They aren’t you, and they aren’t in your family.

Besides, it’s not about them. It’s not even about you. The quality of you as a family member, and your family as a whole is based on nothing less than the quality of Jesus. He defines you. His success is your success, in ever area, even family.

You lack no spiritual blessing from Jesus. You are already a great parent, you are already a great child, you are already a great family member, you are already a great family, and nothing within your performance thereof can add or subtract from that.

So stop playing the game. Take down the pieces, fold up the board, and put it back in the box.

Your family job is to enjoy Jesus and awaken to the you, you already are…. complete, righteous, sanctified, forgiven, pure, Holy, and the delight of your Father… as is… a whole mother, a whole father… brother, sister, daughter, son… that’s who you are.

There is no condemnation over any aspect of your family, your role, or participation thereof. None.

No person, no family is better… only different.

So shut up with this, “we need to build stronger families for Jesus” crap. There’s nothing to build.  It’s already been built, finished on the cross. It’s you. It’s your family.

You are already strong, you are already successful, you are already complete.

So go, be free… be the family, be the family member you already are… no better, no worse than another, just different…

…without pressure, fear, guilt, or shame.

This is Grace.

This is the change that changes things.

This is family.

This, is the Jesus way.

Pressure: Surviving Christmas

For many people, Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year.  Instead it’s filled with a lot of pressures; the pressures of family visits, being happy, presents under the tree, and the list goes on and on. Truth be told, for some, it may just well be the worst time of the year. For them, it’s the loneliest time of the year, the most depressing time of the year, the most expensive time of the year, the most stressful time of the year, and the most anxious time of the year.  The fact that the suicide rate is the highest during Christmas, the fact that between Thanksgiving and Christmas we go into credit card debt as Americans to the tune of 131.1 billion dollars, the fact that 35% of people say they are most depressed and stressed during this time of the year than any other is indicative that it really is true, Christmas for many people is the most wonderful time of the year for pressure.

So, in this post, I am unplugging the Christmas machine and getting back to what Christmas is really all about, because the truth is, the pressures our culture has put on Christmas as bent and twisted what Christmas is truly all about to the point that it’s true meaning is virtually unrecognizable in how we celebrate Christmas in our culture today.  More than that, I want to spend some time giving some wisdom on how to survive the pressures of Christmas.

The Pressure of Memories

Behind all the decorations and office parties, there are people who are not so excited and euphoric about Christmas. All this season  does is unearth and magnify a lot of sadness for them. Maybe you lost somebody you loved and so the chair they sat in last year at the Christmas table will be empty, or maybe it’s because you got divorced of separated this year, and the “I love you” you heard last Christmas you’re not going to hear this Christmas, or maybe you have lost a child, and though you still put up their stocking, Christmas is just another reminder they aren’t there to open it up.

One of the ideas you hear a lot about during Christmas is the idea of getting into the “Christmas Spirit.” And chances are, the moment we hear the idea of getting into the Christmas Spirit we immediately think of having feelings of joy, excitement, fun, hopefulness, love, and having a “Holly Jolly, Christmas” If you are having those kind of emotions, that’s great, be really thankful for that and hold onto it. Sure, Christmas is a season of joy. But what might be surprising to you is that it isn’t just about having joy.

See, for some people, there’s a ton pressure to be “on,” to be happy, to be joyful, to walk around in their Santa hat singing cheerful Christmas songs all the time. But that’s just not how they feel. For some people this season is something more to be endured than to be enjoyed. For many, Christmas is not so happy and jolly. And because everybody else seems to be all holly and jolly, and every Christmas commercial paints the perfect family with perfect smiles, it leaves them feeling like they belong on the island of misfit toys. For some, they feel like the boy in the movie Polar Express, “Christmas just doesn’t work out for me”

So let me tell you, if that sounds like you, there is nothing wrong with you, you are not a misfit. No, believe it or not, no matter what the commercials show you, there is more to Christmas (the true meaning of Christmas) than just having some euphoric, warm fuzzy feelings all the time. Believe it or not, this constant state of joy and bliss that you see everybody having on t.v. isn’t a complete picture of what having the Christmas spirit is all about.

In fact, if you truly tell the Christmas story, un-commercialized, the un-americanized, unedited for our ears, the emotional response that matches up with the real story of Christmas just can’t be one sided, it just can’t be about feeling joy, hope, excitement, or love, because that’s not the whole story.

Take a look at this…

Matthew 2:13-18 13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” 14 So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, 15 where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.” 16 When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. 17 Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled: 18 “A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, 
Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.”

Though this passage doesn’t get made into any Christmas specials on t.v., this is part of the Christmas story. Just think of this scene in Bethlehem that day, it must have been gut wrenching. Mothers must have clung desperately to their little boys when they heard the soldiers marching down the street going from door-to-door. Fathers must have tried to hide their sons in secret hiding places. But all to no avail. When the soldiers were done with their bloody massacre, sobbing mothers were holding their dead babies and powerless fathers were screaming in rage.

Some of you are saying to yourself, “I didn’t know that happened, I didn’t see that scene displayed in the Hallmark window.”

So let me ask you, what kind of feelings do you think came over all those mothers and fathers every year at Christmas who’s children were slaughtered on that first Christmas?

Yet, believe it or not, the pain of that scene even goes deeper than that, because what happens here with Herod and the babies evokes deeper painful memories of the past, that’s what the whole reference to the woman named Rachel is about.

Check this out…

Genesis 35:16-20 6 Then they moved on from Bethel. While they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel began to give birth and had great difficulty. 17 And as she was having great difficulty in childbirth, the midwife said to her, “Don’t despair, for you have another son.” 18 As she breathed her last—for she was dying—she named her son Ben-Oni. But his father named him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem). 20 Over her tomb Jacob set up a pillar, and to this day that pillar marks Rachel’s tomb.

So not only do you have a Christmas scene of boys being slaughtered by Herod, but then this event also resurfaces memories of a mother’s mourning from the past. But the painful memories go even deeper than that, because this whole scene of the Christmas story is even connected to something deeper…

Exodus 1:15-22 15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, 16 “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” 17 The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. 18 Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” 19 The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” 20 So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families of their own. 22 Then Pharaoh gave this order to all his people: “Every Hebrew boy that is born you must throw into the Nile, but let every girl live.”

Are you seeing it? With Herod killing these little boys, it opens up a flood gate of other painful memories!

Unfortunately, we have been made to think that Christmas is supposed to be all happy and jolly.  No, for some people, Christmas is at least (in part) a painful experience, and the truth is, it was that way from the beginning.

See, if you and I are going to have the true Christmas Spirit, there has got to be room for feelings like sadness, struggle, and anxiety. There has to be room for things like tears, quietness, and pain… that’s part of the story.  Right now, let me give you some permission this Christmas season, don’t buy into the pressure to “cheer up and snap out of it.”  If you have sadness this season, there is a place for that, and it’s not under the carpet. Don’t be afraid to tell the story  -don’t buy into the lie, “well, people already heard it, I don’t want to be downer.”  Christmas time is a great time for stories, and the Christmas story at points is a story of tremendous tragedy and sorrow, so your story of sorrow fits perfectly.

Some people go into Christmas feeling under pressure to sweep the past aside and pretend it doesn’t exist, but if you take the scriptures seriously, if you let Christmas be what Christmas was, that stuff is part of the story too, and you can’t take it out of the Christmas story, and you can’t take it out of your story.

The Pressure of Family

For many people, the combination of family and Christmas stresses them out a bit.  Christmas is a time where more than ever, for some, it heightens their wish they had the family they don’t have or they wish they didn’t have the family they do have.  When it comes to family and Christmas the pressure is on, because many of us our going to have the “family visit” for Christmas this year. And already, you are wondering, you are preparing yourself for how it’s all going to go down.

What do you do when there’s tension in the room that you can cut with a knife because cousin Ed who’s 48 years old has decided that the Christmas dinner table is the best time to announce that He’s marrying his 19 year old girlfriend?  Or what do you do when the guilt trips come, “Oh, so we’re not going to see you at all this Christmas, the very parents who raised you and changed your diapers?” What do you do when cousin Lou decides to have a little too much egg nog and in a voice that everyone can hear she begins to tell you just what she thinks of your husband?  What do you do when that family member says those words, or does that thing that has a way of just getting under your skin and causing your neck veins to pop out? Or what do you do at that family visit when you feel more like an outlaw than an in-law.  There is a lot pressure that comes when you put family and Christmas together.

Mark 6:1-3 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him.

Apparently Jesus has a family, he has His mom Mary and some brothers, so he has family. And I’m sure  that because he’s the Son of God, he is going to have a perfect family, right?

Mark 3:20-21 20 Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. 21 When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

Wait a second. So Jesus has been out healing and casting out demons. Crowd after crowd gathered to be healed and to figure out who this Jesus guy is, and then he runs into his family. But, instead of coming inside and hearing what Jesus has to say and encouraging him, his own family stands outside and joins in with the cynics as they try to make excuses for their son’s behavior?

John 7:1-5 1 After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. 2 But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, 3 Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. 4 No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” 5 For even his own brothers did not believe in him.

Wait another second. So his own brothers, the people that should have his best interests at heart and know him better than anybody else, first of all they are trying to turn him into a political figure and then underneath it all, they don’t believe in him? Apparently, Jesus who is the perfect son of God doesn’t have anything like a perfect family, no instead, from the very beginning Jesus is misunderstood by the people who should understand him the most, his own family.

Now let’s go back to Mark 6, because in those verses Jesus decides to go home and make a little family visit. Kind of like perhaps you are going to do this Christmas.

Mark 6:1-6 1 Jesus left there and went to his hometown, accompanied by his disciples. 2 When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?” they asked. “What’s this wisdom that has been given him? What are these remarkable miracles he is performing? 3 Isn’t this the carpenter? Isn’t this Mary’s son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren’t his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. 4 Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.” 5 He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. 6 He was amazed at their lack of faith.

Now there are some important things I want you to notice about those verses….

o.o1 Jesus utilizes the support of his spiritual family

In verse 1, we notice that to this family visit, Jesus brings his disciples with Him. What are the disciples? Well, in one aspect they are a kind of spiritual family. I almost imagine Jesus getting the guys together and saying, “hey guys could you come with me, because I am going home to my family, and this isn’t going to be easy.”

One of the things I think Jesus is showing us right off the bat is that if we put all our expectation onto our biological families alone to fulfill all those longings we have for unconditional love, for a sense of belonging, approval, and support, we will probably be let down, disappointed, and frustrated. Some of the pressure of family and Christmas comes from simply having unrealistic expectations. We see those commercials around Christmas where people are all honky dory, everybody is getting along, no problems, everybody is happy, and we’re thinking “o.k. that’s the way my family is going to be,” and if it’s not we’re going to fix it all in one family visit. But chances are, if it’s not  going to happen for Jesus, then it’s probably not going to happen for us.

No, apparently for Jesus, when He got around family, he didn’t go it alone.  He’s not leaning on his biological family to be the everything in his life, for it to all be so perfect. He brought his disciples with Him. They were His spiritual family, they shared a common belief and cause together. They connected at the spiritual, core level, and His disciples apparently knew him better than His family did.

Mark 3:31-35 1 Then Jesus’ mother and brothers arrived. Standing outside, they sent someone in to call him. 32 A crowd was sitting around him, and they told him, “Your mother and brothers are outside looking for you.” 33 “Who are my mother and my brothers?” he asked. 34 Then he looked at those seated in a circle around him and said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! 35 Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”

If you are reading this post and you have a great biological family, and all your needs for acceptance, belonging, self esteem and approval can be met there, then great! Praise God for that! But for many people that just isn’t how it happens.  And so God creates this thing called a spiritual family that you can have, with God being your heavenly Father, and brothers and sisters in Christ, where there’s a bond that goes deeper than flesh and blood. And some of you know exactly what I am talking about, you have discovered within a church a spiritual family where the bonds, the love, the support, and the sense of belonging go far deeper than DNA. That’s the way God designed it.

When you have developed a spiritual family, closeness with your Heavenly father, and some bothers and sisters in Christ, you can go to that family visit with the mindset, “Hey you know what, my biological father may not be all the things I have needed or hoped for, they may never change, they may disappoint me during this visit, but I have a heavenly Father who meets all of my needs.”

You can go into that family visit thinking, “I may not get along or have the kind of brothers or sisters that I would hope for, but I’ve got some brothers and sister in Christ that I can turn to that can help fill in the gaps.”

You can sit at the Christmas dinner table and think to yourself, “My child or my children and what there are doing with their lives may not be to my wishes, right now, I may not be seeing the fruits of my labor, but I have got some people who are young in faith, who are children spiritually to me, that I am being a spiritual father or a spiritual mother to, and I can see God moving in their lives.”

o.o2 Jesus didn’t bend under the pressure to conform

Let me ask you, when you go home for a family visit during Christmas, by the time you leave there do you feel like a child all over again?

Yah, it’s weird isn’t it, you can even start finding yourself regressing back into some of those old family roles, and by the time you leave, you don’t know what’s happened to you. It’s so easy when we make family visits to get all unraveled and lose ourselves and what we have become, or feel like we need to in order to fit in. Yet, for Jesus when He goes home, He didn’t change who He was and what He was about.  No, instead, he kept on doing His thing and being Himself, teaching in the synagogue.

You know one of the hardest thing to do when you make a family visit, is to truly be yourself, the person God is creating you to be. It’s not easy. As a matter of fact, listen to how they reacted to Jesus and his teaching. (verse 2)  “Where does this man get these things?”  In other word, “who does this guy think he is?”

Truth be told, being around family can be like superman being around kryptonite, you feel like you loose yourself and all your power.  The moment you walked in the door, all that courage you had, all that self-control, all that confidence you had, all those convictions you had, it just all somehow gets sucked right out of you.

However, notice Jesus doesn’t back off his game plan, He doesn’t compromise His convictions. He’s being straight forward, and straight up with them while telling them like it is, not holding anything back. Do we need to be tactful? Yes. Should we become a bull in a china shop? No.  But so often, especially around family, we error on the side of caving in at times. Under the pressure to conform and water down our convictions, we sell out.

o.o3 Jesus doesn’t buy into their belittling

For example, in verse 3 , it’s a little subtle, they kinda start belittling him, there are like, “Isn’t he just the cute little Joseph’s boy, the kid, isn’t Jesus just that little child we knew many years ago, our little carpenter boy.”

Apparently, no matter what Jesus had done or become, no matter even how others grew to respect him and understand him, his family still sees him as just a child. Doesn’t it make family visits really fun when even though you’re like forty years old, your parents still criticize the way you hold your fork at the dinner table.  “Come on hold you’re fork like a gentleman.” It’s hard because it’s really easy to get unraveled by that. I don’t know about you’re mom, but my mom makes it pretty clear that she’s always going to be my mom, and I’m always going to be her little boy.  I’m not sensing I’m going to change that anytime soon.

Yet, Jesus doesn’t let it get under his skin, and he doesn’t even try to argue, because parents are going to be parents and families are going to be families, and there probably isn’t much you are going to be able to do to change it.  But what we can do, is what Jesus did, He didn’t internalize it, He didn’t go crawl up into the fetal position somewhere.  No, he went into that family visit, encouraged by his spiritual family, confident in who He was and what God was doing with His life.

o.o4 Jesus was prepared for challenges

Jesus knew the scripture verse, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town, among his relatives and in his own home.”  He knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so he went into his family visit in the mindset that it was a ministry visit.  He wasn’t going into it in terms of what he was going to get out of it, he had his spiritual family for that, but he went into thinking “I am going to try to make the best out of this, to be a blessing if I can, and to be a source of wisdom and encouragement if I can.”  “I going to do my best and trust God with the rest.”

You can just tell, Jesus was prepared, and he was prepared for the fact there may be some awkward, weird, tense moments.

Maybe for you, when it comes to that Christmas visit with family this year, preparedness is your best chance of survival too. As a matter of fact, here are some tips for preparing for that family visit this year…

1-Pray for you family and your visit, and pray with your family before you go on that visit.  Bring a taser just in case. (Just kidding)

2-As best you can, try to be fair with family visits.  If you are married and you have relatives on both sides, try to be fair about that. The Bible says, “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

3-If you have kids, before you go on that family visit, clearly share with them your expectations of them and the consequences that will incur if those expectation aren’t met.

4-Try to foresee issues that may surface during that family gathering, and in advance prepare your response or a plan of how you are going to handle it. That’s proactive, if you wait to the moment it happens that’s reactive. As a matter of fact, if you are married couple and are going to visit family for Christmas, it’s a good idea to talk about things that may come up with your family ahead of time to discuss and decided how you are going to respond or answer those issues, so that you are both on the same page. And if you are a parent that is having your kids over for a Christmas visit, you may want to talk about how you are going to handle certain issues that may come up with your kids.

When it comes to conflict, awkward moments, and tensions in family around Christmas, preparedness is your best chance of survival.But here’s the deal, even when you prepare, when you try to be fair, when you try to please everybody don’t be surprised when you don’t.  As a matter of fact, let’s take this even further…

o.o5 Jesus couldn’t fix his family

If you are like most people, the moment we see something wrong, especially in our families, we want to fix it.  We feel like “can’t we all just get along and behave.” “Can’t we just for one visit, one weekend, one hour around the dinner table, can’t we just put some stuff aside. “If you’ll just do this, you change that, you become this, you do that, we could all be fine.”

Yet, look at what happens for Jesus in verse 5, you can just hear Jesus’ heart… ” I can’t do any miracles here, I can’t fix this, I can’t make this go away”  Don’t be surprised that when you go to try to fix things, that you may feel exactly like Jesus,  “I can’t save Dad, I can’t fix mom, and can’t rescue sister, or brother, or this situation.”

Now, make no mistake, there are times God calls us and says, you need (can) to do something about this (forgive, listen, compromise, be patient, bite your tongue), but there are other times, when God says, “The battle is mine, that issue is mine”  “Only I can fix this.” We all want to have the perfect family, the perfect family visit, and for people to be just as excited about what God is doing in our lives as we are. We all want people in our families to love Jesus as much as we do, for people to get along, to forgive, to set aside their differences, to play fair, to give some respect, to soften their attitudes, to wear some deodorant for crying out loud, or to put whisky down, if for just a few hours on Christmas day.

But you know what, it may not happen. It didn’t happen for Jesus. That visit this year, it may be disappointing, it may break your heart, but you know what, whether you like it or not, whether you want to claim them or not… they are still your family,

In fact, for Jesus, when all is said and done, take a look at this..

John 19:25-27  Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. 26 When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” 27 and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.

Picture this, there is Jesus hanging on the cross and His concern is for His mother’s care.

Regardless of all the drama, Jesus loved His family.  It may have to be from a distance, it may have to be from behind some serious boundaries that are absolutely necessary.  But even when you can’t fix it, you can still do your best to love your family.

The Pressure of Presents

Did you know in 2010, the average American family spent $870 on Christmas gifts, $33 in cards and postage, $51 on decorations, for a total of nearly $1,000?

Did you know that between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Americans rack up more than $131.1 billion dollars in credit card debt?

Did you know that 45% of people say that buying presents is more a chore than something they enjoy?

Think about this for a second, we have so identified Christmas with presents bought in a store and put under a tree, that you will hear people say, “we just aren’t going to be able to have Christmas this year,” or “we are going to give this person Christmas this year,” and what are they talking about? Presents.  For many people Christmas hinges on the presents.

As a matter of fact let me ask you something, would Christmas be as special to you if there with no malls involved, no shopping involved, no ribbons and bows, no presents under the tree, no getting up in the morning to unwrap them? Or think of it this way, could the Grinch come into your life this year and steal Christmas? Is the meaning of Christmas to you something that could be taken away from you? Would you feel like less of a mom or a dad if there were no presents under the tree this year? Would that get at you? How hard would it be for your kids?

It’s hard to be honest about that, because I would say for most of us, to some degree or another, we feel the pressure of presents, the unwritten, unspoken expectation of presents.  Back in the corners of our minds there is a minimum standard of presents that would be acceptable for you to have for your kids or your family, there’s the list of all those people you  feel obligated to buy presents for. And soon into this Christmas thing, the pressure starts to mount, the count down to Christmas starts.

And so the question becomes, what do we do with that pressure?  Because deep down we know there is something pure about this giving thing, it’s at the very heart of who Jesus and is and what God has done for us, the reason why we have a Christmas at all is because God gave us the gift of Jesus, born in a manger.  We all get that. But when fathers and husbands are committing suicide because they can’t give their family the material kind of Christmas they think they have to, when kids start screaming at the idea of not getting the present they want under the tree, when families are going into debt to get presents, when we associate the whole idea of Christmas as to whether it’s a good Christmas or a bad Christmas with how many presents are wrapped in a box under a tree, when 45% of people find it to be a chore to buy the presents that are giving, when our culture loves the cash making opportunity behind Christmas much more than the Christ of Christmas something is seriously out of whack. Wouldn’t you agree?

Here are some thoughts about how to handle the pressure of presents…

o.o1 When it comes to your children, give them what they really want… you.

When the presents we give to our kids are merely the icing on the cake of how we love of our kids, great. When presents become the cake of how we love our kids, not good.

For some parents in our culture, they make presents such a big deal, they buy this and that, anything the kids want, they find a way to get it, all to some how in their mind make up for the lack of a parent they have been the other 364 days of the year.  For some parents it’s a way of removing the guilt, buying, in a sense their kids love, or buying a way out of the guilt for not being the parent you know you should be.

For some, buying the presents isn’t really for the kids, it’s for the parents to feel better about their parenting.

It’s interesting around the Holidays, that many parents spend extra time away from home, long hours into the night, all to make that extra money for Christmas, under the pressure to buy presents for Christmas, when ironically what that child really wants is more time and attention from their parents.

It’s interesting that fathers work extra hard at having the money to buy the action figures of the heroes their children aspire on t.v. when really what their children want is for their dad to be their hero, for their dad to be that active figure in their life.

It’s interesting that moms go out and earn all that extra money to buy their daughters dolls that are beautiful, make up to make their faces prettier, clothes and jewelry to boost their self-esteem, when deep down what their daughters really want from their moms for Christmas and what would really boost their self-esteem is to know their moms think they are beautiful just the way they are.

Here’s a good question for those of us who are parents or grandparents, do you want your children and grandchildren to associate your love exclusively with something that can be bought at store, or with something that a few weeks later they don’t want to play with anymore? Do you really want them to associate your love solely with something that can get taken away from, do you want them to associate your love with something that later YOU are going to take away from them as a punishment?

See, what our kids really want from us this year is us. For some kids, they want their parents to finally start showing up as parents. For some kids, they want their parents to love them enough to discipline them, not let them get and do whatever they want to and get away with it. That’s why they are acting out, because they are wondering if you love them enough to discipline them. For some, they want their parents to finally pay attention to them. For others, they want their parents to stop fighting with each other and get their marriage on track. For some they want their parents to stop over eating and smoking. For some they want their parents to finally get serious about Jesus. That’s what they really want, and they would trade all the presents in the world if they could just get that.

So much of what our kids want this Christmas doesn’t involve something that can be bought in a store, it involves you. Any parent can buy a gift at a store, but it takes a special parent to give their kids what they really want… you.

o.o2 Give the way God gives.   Take a look at a couple passages with me…

John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

John 10:30  I and the Father are one.

Here’s the simple idea… when God gave his son Jesus Christ to us, he was giving Himself.

And you say, “but the wise men gave gifts.” Yes, but they didn’t buy them at the Super Target or at the local Mall, they were giving from what had been given to them.

See the super cool thing about God is when God gives, he doesn’t look for the blue light special, he doesn’t get up on the Friday morning after Thanksgiving, load himself up with a liter of Starbuck’s coffee and go on all day shopping frenzy.  He doesn’t say to himself, “Well, I haven’t been such a good God to all those people down there this year, so I better make it up with a blow out Christmas filled with presents.”

No, Gods gives of himself, He sacrifices something of Himself. And, I know what some of you are thinking, well I give of my money, that’s me, that’s part of me.  Really?  Listen, don’t reduce the miracle of you to a dollar bill, you are not your money.  Money doesn’t make you the man or the women. That is not a pressure God has designed you to bare.

Truth is, for some people, the pressure of presents is an issue of their entire identity, their whole identity as a mother or father person, or friend is all wrapped up (literally) in the material side of Christmas. And God says, “No, don’t get caught up in the lie, you are so much more than that!”

Matthew 6:19-2119 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

Part of what Jesus is saying is if you wrap up your identity, the way you feel about yourself in stuff, in material things, you are going to be all over the map in yourself esteem. You’ll be like a candle in the wind, when money is good, you’ll feel good, when money is bad, you’re out of luck, where ever the wind of money is blowing that’s where you and your self-esteem will be, but if you see that you are of heavenly worth, priceless, in and of yourself, no matter your material possessions, there’s no pressure.

Let me tell you something, I promise you that what the people in your life want the most from you for Christmas is not your money or anything your money can buy.  They may say they want material things, but deep down, it’s not what the really want. What they really want is you.

It’s easier to give someone a nifty tie, it’s easier to whip out the plastic and buy them a key change with their name engraved on it, it’s easier to push a few keystrokes on line and order them a gift basket of every kind of lotion known to man because it’s easier to do that than to give that person something of yourself.

Yet, what God gives, you can’t buy in a store, check this out…

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life inChrist Jesus our Lord.

Try to pick up eternity-with-God at the dollar store, you can’t do it.

Or imagine you’re this guy Peter in the Bible, you love Jesus, you and him are tight, but when push comes to shove in a moment of weakness you choke, when it mattered most, you denied that you ever even knew Jesus, and everybody’s heard about, you screwed up big time, you betrayed your best friend to save your skin, and it’s all over the papers, “Peter the Coward.” Now imagine you are Peter, and you see Jesus at a little breakfast gathering, and your expecting to get the third degree, and everybody is watching, but instead he simply asks you three times, “do you love me?”  And you are thinking, “of course I do,” and Jesus looks at you and says, “o.k., let’s let the past be the past and move on”.    You can’t wrap that kind of Grace and love in a box.

Or imagine you are Abraham, you and your wife have been trying to have kids for a very long time, the whole thing has gotten so complicated, it all seems so hopeless, and you are frustrated.  But then God shows up at your door, and even in the midst of his busy schedule, he comes just to spend time with you and to personally let you in on what He’s up to in your life. God is just coming to be a friend to you, and then to top it off, he tells you that you and your wife are going to have the child you have been hoping for. You just can’t buy that kind of friendship, those words of encouragement, that kind of hope, or that kind of guidance.

As a matter of fact, let me kick this up a notch.

If this is the kind of stuff God gives, and the true meaning of Christmas is what God gives us, namely His son Jesus Christ, Himself, and all kinds of things that you can’t wrap in a box, than maybe the question of the day is, “what are you giving for Christmas?”

If you can’t wrap up any of these things in a box that are so priceless, then why are you putting so much emphasis on giving things that can be?  If what you need most can’t be wrapped up in a box, then why are you giving the people you love the most gifts that can be wrapped in a box?

James 1:17   Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.

What Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn needs for me is not just for me to be the father God has called me to be, but for me to introduce them to their heavenly father, for my kids to see Christ in me. As a matter of fact, if the very best gift I have to offer Harrison, Cailyn, and Madelyn at Christmas (or any other time of the year) is just MY love, they got real problems.

Galatians 2:20a  I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.

See, if you are a Christian, you  are much more than just you, which means you have something more in you than just you to give. The real deal behind Christmas is to realize there is so much more to give than just presents. You can give you, and even deeper than that, you can give the Jesus in you.

o.o3 Christmas is a great time to show children that true love can’t be bought, and that money shouldn’t be able to buy or influence their hearts.

Part of whether or not your children get the true meaning of Christmas is by how much emphasis you put on the gifts or you put on the giving. So if you really want to know how to make sure that Christmas means the right thing to your children, you have to ask, “does Christmas mean the right thing to me?”  Children don’t where the shoes you give them, they wear the shoes you wore….

What is really the meaning of Christmas to you… can we see that by how you celebrate it?  Is it the gifts or the giving that the pure impulse of it all, or is the whole deal about all the stuff you can buy, or is it something in you that you can give.

Is there a place for bikes wrapped with bows and matchbox cars, Barbie dolls, and train sets? Sure, but only when those things never get in the way of you and your family experiencing the true pure impulse of Christmas.

So, maybe in addition or even in substitution for exchanging presents at Christmas…

-You could give your child a picture of you and your child doing together your favorite thing with them, and when they open it, tell them why that is the favorite you like to do with them.

-Give them a gift that they will give to somebody else at a time other than Christmas.

-Give them a letter from you telling them all the things you love about them the most.

-Have a present-free Christmas one year, and rather give gifts to another family or to a service organization instead.

-Give a gift to a charitable organization in their name.

-As a family, take the $1,000 that you might have spent on Christmas presents and buy a well for the people in India or Africa who don’t have clean water. One well can give a village of 1,000 people the clean water they need.

-Spend your Christmas money on groceries for the local food bank or soup kitchen and then go down and help distribute food to people in need.

-Visit the elderly in nursing homes or spending time with others who don’t have family and friends around for the Holidays.

The key is to realize, the greatest things that you can receive in life and you have to offer other people can’t be wrapped in a box. The very thing people need from you and deep down want from you, can’t be wrapped in a box. And when you realize that, the pressure of presents can be reduced to a non- issue.

Grace-Centered Conflict Management

One thing ministry leaders would all like is to be able to handle conflict with more confidence, inner-rest, and effectiveness. Can I get a good “Amen” to that?

Conflict is a part of life and relationships, and it’s certainly a part of ministry.  It’s never pleasant and seldom easy to manage. Yet, when we approach conflict from our identity in Christ and a foundation of Grace, it can become less intimidating and a powerful catalyst to growth.

Yet, in the midst of conflict, we tend to fear extending Grace because we wonder if it might be exploited and become a license for further disobedience and rebellion. Additionally, we tend to lose ourselves and our sense of identity during conflict as it calls out the worst in us rather than the best. However, when we truly understand Grace, we learn that Grace is in fact our best ally in our conflict management. When properly applied and understood, Grace provides the necessary ingredients for meaningful change, resolution, alignment, and obedience to occur. The desired change we pray to occur through conflict management is in fact the change only Grace can bring, not a religious spirit of rules, punishment, and rule-keeping.

Here are three key dynamics in navigating conflict management with confidence and effectiveness where God’s Grace and our identity in Christ are the foundation from which we handle conflict.

1.0 Who You Are (Your Vibe)

How you see yourself will have dramatic implications to how you manage conflict. Believing in who you are in Christ is critical in handling conflict well.  Who you are in the midst of conflict will likely have tremendous impact on the outcome of conflict. We all give off a vibe as we handle conflict. This vibe has more influence than you might think.

When we are secure in ourself because of our identity in Christ, conflict need not push our personal buttons as easily, if at all. In fact, most conflicts have little to do with us and much to do with the person or situation. When it does have something to do with us, it should never be given the power to influence our sense of identity in Christ.  Our identity in Christ through His Grace is the foundation from which we must ground ourselves in the midst of all conflict. It is this sense of identity through trusting in Jesus’ work in our life that gives us the calm, confident, inner-resting foundation from which to manage conflict well. This vibe, rooted in your identity in Christ is the x-factor of managing conflict well.

One of the ways I have come up with to apply this personally to my life and leadership is what I call…   Identity Detachment. 

“Identity Detachment” is simply the idea of maintaining our sense of identity in Christ in the midst of conflict. This enables us to maintain control of our attitudes, emotions, and actions as we avoid being sucked into the personal drama of conflict. We can walk assured, confident, and complete even in the midst of our harshest critics and most difficult moments of conflict. When we allow conflict to become personal to the level it reaches our sense of identity, we have entered into an unhealthy place.

Satan always tempts us to do the wrong thing in conflict by first getting us to believe the wrong things about ourselves.

This is a critical awareness. Making sure to detach our sense of identity from the drama of the conflict is key. Knowing who we are and what God has graced us with are critical to having a solid posture/vibe from which to manage conflict well. For all os us, our identity is nothing less than being the righteousness of Christ, completely forgiven, lacking nothing, and much, much more. For some, God has graced you with levels of authority, responsibility, calling, gifts, etc. Making sure our identities our stewarded well will give us a proper foundation, expressing a healthy vibe, from which we can manage conflict gracefully.

Specifically, “Identity Detachment” does several positive things in the midst of conflict…

1) It enables us to not overreact or under-react

2 It enables us to maintain professionalism

3) It enables us to act in ways that do not diminish our character

Fear and hurt are common when dealing with conflict, yet they can cause us to do all the wrong things and miss doing all the right things while attempting to manage conflict. They can cause us to overreact or not react at all. They can allow our emotions to get the best of us and make our actions impulsive, and it can lead us to acting in ways that we would never do in normal circumstances.

One powerful way we can detach our identities from the conflict at hand is to claim by faith that “Perfect love casts out fear.”

God perfectly loves you. Through faith, we are the righteousness of Christ having been given every spiritual blessing, and even the mind of Christ. We are guilt and shame free with God’s Grace removing all condemnation over our lives.When we trust in who we are in Christ and His perfect love for us, it calls us back to a foundation from which we can respond to conflict gracefully without losing ourselves in the process.

The first step of managing conflict well is to secure our identity in Christ through faith in who we are in Him. Having this as the foundation from which we manage conflict is critical. Remember, your vibe will enable you to thrive through conflict.  This expression of faith in Christ for who we are (in the midst of a conflict that is likely trying to steal, kill, and destroy all that) greatly pleases God.

I pray I have communicated this well as the principals of this concept are gold to those who lead and seek to manage conflict effectively for the Kingdom.

2.0 Who the Person(s) is With Whom There is Conflict (Their Value)

Where our vibe (given from our identity) is powerful in handling conflict, the value we place on people is equally powerful.

All people are deeply loved by God unconditionally, even our worst enemies. Furthermore, God is at work to move all people onto His agenda for their lives.  The goal of this agenda is to make each person into a completely new person through faith in Christ, with a new identity, and a therefore a new life. God makes us brand new through faith in Christ, we believe and receive it which gives us a new sense of identity, because of our new sense of identity, we can live and have new life.

Therefore, we must have a sense of purpose to our handling of conflict that seeks the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved. A purpose statement for handling conflict might be something like…

We will use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith

In this way, conflict is given a desired outcome where love is expressed and God’s purposes in the lives of those involved is sought after. Furthermore, it is important that we see behavioral problems as an identity problem at heart. Grace that enables a new sense of identity in Christ is what removes the spirit of rebellion and fosters new living. Rules and religion only serve to fuel disobedience.

Look for the Roots of Condemnation and Religion

All people have certain amounts of baggage and issues that influence their actions and attitudes. The most serious form of baggage is condemnation. Most people are trying to overcome the condemnation they walk around with through religion and rules. Many don’t even realize the destructive work that condemnation is doing in their lives. Find me a person who is disobedient or a trouble maker (Christian or not) and you will have found a person who has a significant sense of condemnation in their life.

In the next section, I will talk about general ideas about how handle the behaviors and situations of conflict from a posture of Grace in more detail. Yet, it is important to note now that one might first need to contain the conflict (for the protection of what God is doing in the lives of all involved) through various means in order to get to a place where time can be spent dealing with real issues behind the conflict, such as a spirit of condemnation.

However, if we truly want to give Grace into people’s lives, we must be willing to go past behavior modification, punishments, and rules to address the roots of what is causing the symptoms manifested in their behavior.  Condemnation is at the base.  It is Satan’s greatest weapon he has to go after our identity, in fact it is his only weapon. Satan knows if he can get us to believe the wrong things about ourselves, he can lead us to act wrongly in life.

3.0 What the Situation Is and What to Do (Your Actions)

Obviously, much can be written about this as there are countless nuances to conflict management. However, here are some important principals (among many) to apply…

0.01 Remember the goalto use conflict as an opportunity to seek the best of God’s agenda for the lives of all involved in making them a new person with a new identity, living a new life through His Grace and our faith. Conflict can be a great opportunity for people to experience what they have been needing all along… Grace. Yet, grace does not condone nor enable sin. In fact, Grace is what  teaches and positions us to live obedient lives through becoming a new person with a new identity. Grace that enables, or “declares peace where there is no peace”  is not grace.

o.o2 Identity Detachment– Believe in and trust in who you are in Christ through His grace, make this your foundation.

o.o3 Punishment is not an option-  Jesus took all our punishment on the cross, there is no longer need for punishment. Punishment has to do with shame and condemnation. Discipline is entirely different. As I will describe in further detail below, proper direction, correction, containment, clean-up, and even removal can be acts of Grace, handled with Grace, and not in a spirit of punishment.

o.o4 Direct communication is always the first step- Most conflicts can be handled one and one through face to face conversation. This is the ideal and primary setting for managing conflict. Problems occur when we don’t communicate directly, throughly, promptly, and personally. This is the opportune time to address issues of guilt, shame, condemnation and identity, all of which are root causes of negative behavior. It is also an important opportunity to clarify roles, expectations, vision, and goals.

o.o5 Being directive is different than punishment- If during the conflict conversations, resolution does not result, and negative behavior continues or escalates, redirecting the person while communicating consequences will likely become necessary and beneficial.

Giving direction or redirection seeks to take negatives and make them into positives. For example, “Johnny, I see you are having repeated trouble with this task and meeting the goals we agreed upon, how about we try having you focus on these other tasks instead.”

Communicating consequences might look like, “Johnny, as you start these new tasks, we will reconnect in 3 weeks and see what progress you are making. If things are going well, we will settle in with this new role for you, if not, we will need to reevaluate things.”

Redirecting can also involve a person getting help, counsel, or training.

Obviously, some moments will require more or less directive-ness and consequences. However, the approach of redirecting/directing (though it may be perceived as punishment) is purposed on enabling God’s work to be done most effectively for all involved, bearing in mind part of the “all” in “all involved” is the Church and it’s purposes.

o.o6 Containment – When a conflict is not successfully resolved through direct communication, correction, and redirection, or it has become a public matter effecting others, containment can become an important option.  For the protection of God’s work in all involved, some steps may need to be taken such as…

Clear-up- Unfortunately, when conflict reaches public levels, it can get messy, and the truth can get buried alive. Sometimes it may be necessary and useful to speak in public settings to the issues involved for the purposes of clarification so that God’s work in the lives of all might be protected.

Clean-up- In the same way, conflicts can cause much damage. Directing people in the process of cleaning-up the messes their own conflict has caused can become an important step of growth for them and healing for all involved. This can also prevent the need for someone to be removed or even redirected prematurely. When this is done from a position of Grace, communicating shame and punishment can be avoided while responsibility is given along with an opportunity to rebuild trust etc.

o.o7 Removal can be a necessary act of Grace that protects the person(s), God’s work in them and in all that are involved.

For leaders in ministry, part of the “all involved” (in the purpose statement for handling conflict written above) is the church. God deeply cares about the health and redemptive work of His Church. Unfortunately, even the best skills in conversation, counsel, directing, re-directing, and containment may not produce a resolved result. In some situations, in order to protect and prosper the work of God for all involved, removal of that person from their task, position, role, attendance, or membership will be required.

Though it may not first feel like it to anyone, this act of removal can be a deep act of grace for all involved without being done in a spirit of punishment, shame, or condemnation.

When levels of conflict reach the containment and removal levels, it’s very valuable to have a highly trained Conflict Management Team of a few people that assists you with managing the conflict.  There is credibility, strength, effectiveness and health in numbers. Furthermore, having a Conflict Management Process that gives direction, clarity, and consistency to you and your team in the area of conflict management will be equally valuable.

5 Key Questions to ask of each conflict…

What is the current impact, and what is the potential impact of this conflict?

Is this a conflict of relationship or vision, or both? Typically, relational conflicts are more easily resolved than vision ones. When it’s both relational and vison related, much time and energy will likely be required to resolve.

What are the tough decisions that need to be made to make sure that God’s work in all involved is protected and fostered?

What message is my vibe (given from my sense of identity) communicating to those involved?

How well am I utilizing a Conflict Management team as I seek to lead well through this conflict?

Cleaning out the Relationship Closet

Are you a Relationship Hoarder or a careless Relationship Disposer?

So, have you heard of hoarding? It’s a term used to refer to people who have a hard time letting go of stuff while collecting more and more things or specific items. Instead of purposefully keeping some things and removing others, they keep everything. There are a variety of possible reasons including… they are afraid to be without it, they have a compulsive streak, or they have attached their identity or some emotionally pleasure to the possession of it. For whatever reason, they have serious difficulty discarding things that are actually working against the health and wholeness of their life. Some of the things they have are of great value, but they wouldn’t be able to distinguish it because of their obsession with everything else.

On the other side of the coin, there are those who soon after they acquire something, they are quick to despose of it and reengage on their quest to get something else. To them everything, even things of significant worth, are disposable. Once they have a new toy (so to speak) they quickly get bored with it and search for another.  Traveling from store to store, hobby to hobby, venture to venture, they pursue the next purchase fix while never prizing, maximizing, and nurturing what they already have.

Interestingly enough, we can have the same kind of extremes when it comes to our relationships.

For some, we hoard our relationships as we hold onto ones that work against the wholeness God desires to bring into our lives. We are actually afraid to be without some relationships in our lives either because of insecurity, we have a perfectionist streak in us (that concludes everyone should like us), or we have tied our identities to a certain person(s) or relationship(s), probably out of codependency and therefore depend on them for our sense of self to unhealthy levels. For whatever reason, relationships that we should have discarded or redefined long ago we keep as is.

For others of us, our relationships have become carelessly disposable. When the person no longer serves our purposes, meets our needs, or benefits us in some way, we are quick to move onto the next. Perhaps it’s out selfishness, inconvenience, or a fear of intimacy, but for whatever reason, true closeness with people eludes us and we never truly know what it is to love and be loved. Why? Because we move from one to the next, never nurturing and investing in the relationships we already have or the people who already desire to know us.  Relationships that we should have kept, drawn closer to, invested in, nurtured, and hung around for we prematurely distance ourselves from or totally throw away.

God wants us to have healthy relationships, we were created for such. From time to time, this means cleaning out the relationship closet. Cleaning out the relationship closet is much like our clothes closet. Though we don’t purchase or possess people like we would a pair of jeans, relationships are among the many things that God wants us to steward well, especially since our relationships have a certain amount of effect on our own wellbeing.  Not having room for healthy relationships or having too many unhealthy relationships isn’t God honoring, nor is disposing and distancing ourselves from relationships that God desire us to nurture and value.

With all of that in mind, there are likely several kinds of relationships in our Relationship Closet…

What’s in your Relationship Closet?

1) Nostalgia Suit – These relationships are mainly defined by what they meant to us in the past. At one time, these relationships fit perfectly in our life. They fit with time, place, and person we were. They gave us great memories and had a special impact on our lives. However, as time progressed, these relationships either grew distant or completely detached. Frequently the separation or distance that ensues isn’t clouded with negativity, but rather benign circumstances.  The power of these relationships can extend well beyond what they meant to us in the past.  Our affectionate memories and the positive impact of these relationships can be significant. When we think of these people, we often smile inwardly.

2) The Fashion Statement – These relationships are mainly defined by how they make us look or feel about ourselves. These are the people at the cool lunch table that we want to know for that sake of our egos and self-esteem.  Often times, we want these people in our lives because they seem to make us feel more important just by knowing them. When you hear people “dropping names” these relationships are probably “Fashion Statements” more than anything else.

3) Special Occasion Dress- These relationships are mainly defined by the purpose or role these persons serve in your life. Like a bridesmaid dress that is typically worn at most one or two times, these relationships are often short term. They may be a reoccurring relationship as there may be periodic times where interaction is needed, once again, to fulfill a special role or purpose.

4) The Adjustable Pants- These relationships are mainly defined by their ability to fit as you change as a person. These are the people who are “with you” no matter where or even who you become. They are typically long term relationships that ebb and flow over the years, developing overtime into deep levels of intimacy.  Relationships like this grow with us and find a way to fit well in every season of our life. These relationships last and compliment what God is doing in our lives

5) The Gifted Tie- These relationships are mainly defined by the guilt we feel for not desiring to be around, with, or in connection with them.  Perhaps they did something for you and now you feel obligated to give your attention or friendship.  In fact, they may be playing upon your guilt and not a healthy person to be around. Or, perhaps you are in a new season of your life and the relationship now feels awkward and superficial. Regardless, the conflicting emotions inside of you towards this relationship tend to weigh heavy with a sense of guilt that you aren’t as emotionally connected as you feel you should be.

6) The Uncomfortable Shoe- These relationships are defined by the uncomfortableness or pain they cause you. Deep down we don’t want these relationships, but we either conclude that this person is the best we are going to get, or we feel somehow obligated to grin and bare the relationship. Sometimes, we will have done everything we can to get the relationship repaired or make adjustments that relieve the stress, but to little or no success. Whether these persons are family members, coworkers, or friends, these relationships cause us chronic uncomfortableness or pain.

7) The Favorite Sweater- These relationships are defined by the comfort, security, and warmth they bring into our lives. Similar to the Adjustable Pants, these relationships are often long term and serve to give us a special kind of security, encouragement, and comfort that other relationships cannot.

8)  The Shrunken Jeans-  These relationships are mainly defined by the reality that they don’t fit anymore. There are potentially two primary reasons why 1) You shrunk the relationship  2) You grew out of the relationship.  Sometimes relationships don’t fit because we screw them up and injure the person and/or the relationship. We may try to force the relationship to fit into our lives by seeking to repair the damage, but in some instances it works, and in others it doesn’t. Other times, we grow out of the relationship and thus it not longer fits the things God is doing in our lives. We may try to bring the person along or fit back in with the crowd we once were in, but often neither result in much success.

9) The Suspenders- These relationships are mainly defined by the support they give us. Sometimes, these are mostly one-sided relationships as we turn to them for support, but the mutual need and care is not reciprocated by them.  Other times, there is a mutual need that is met within the relationship. Either way, the relationship is defined by the specific support the relationship brings.

10) The Wrinkled Shirt- These relationships are mainly defined by the high amount of maintenance they take. With some people you are always having to iron out some issue, either within the relationship or in their lives. Above and beyond the normal flaws and ups and downs of people and relationships, these relationships are filled with drama and often suck the life out of you. Every time you connect with these relationships, you realize there is a lot of ironing to do to make the relationship work. In fact, often times, if you take the drama, negativity, and conflict out of the relationship, there is actually no relationship left.

11) The Catalogue Display- These relationships are mainly defined by our desire to have them. These are the people we want in our relationship closet, but for whatever reason, they aren’t there and likely will never be. These are the people who you are trying to get into your life but aren’t able to without paying a cost. Sometimes that cost is begging them, appeasing them, flattering them, or always being the one to take the initiative.

No Hoarding, No Careless Disposing! Some thoughts about cleaning out the Relationship Closet…

Note: In my personal opinion, based on God’s Word, I do not believe marriage is a relationship that should be categorized as being in your Relationship Closet. Though it often needs cleaning, I do not believe it is a relationship that should be seen as one that should be “cleaned out” of your relationships closet. God allows for divorce under certain defined circumstances, but does not condone it nor require it. Therefore, do not misunderstand the content of this post as applying to marriage.

o.o1 – Be decisive and direct about the Uncomfortable Shoe – The good news about the Uncomfortable Shoe type of relationship is that sometimes things can be softened over and smoothed out. These are relationships that though they make us uncomfortable or even painful, instead of prematurely throwing them out, they may be repairable with some work. I am reminded of the passage in the Bible, “As far as depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” With uncomfortable relationships, we need to be willing to do our best at fixing them. Don’t just wait around hoping things will get better on their own, take initiative to remedy the relationship.

However, as the above passage in the Bible suggests, we can’t always fix relationships. If you have made every effort to revitalize or reconcile the relationship, but with no little or no success, it may just be time to redefine the relationship as you set healthy boundaries.  This can be difficult to do, but it’s critical. We can’t change people, but we can change how we relate to people.

o.o2 – Have realistic expectations about the Nostalgia Suit- It’s easy to want certain relationships and certain aspects of our relationships to last forever. It’s also natural to desire to reconnect with an old friend hoping that things will go back to or feel the ways things did in the past. There are some relationships in our past that can carry on forever, and some that we can reconnect with that pick up like time never passed. However, placing a high expectation that this will be the case is probably not going to serve you or the relationship very well. Let the Nostalgia Suit type of relationship be enjoyed for what it is, and if a new or continued relationship can be developed from it, great. Certainly don’t just discard it.  But don’t place a lot of pressure on the relationship to fit and feel like it used to.

o.o3 – Avoid over thinking the Gifted Tie – Letting the emotions of guilt rule our relationships is not going to result in good things. For sure, we are to be compassionate and caring to people as we give unconditional love. However, you can give unconditional love without granting unlimited access to your life, time, attention, and energy. Guilt does not produce love. When we extend ourselves to people out of guilt, we are not loving them, but in fact are selfishly trying to remove the pain of guilt from our lives so we feel better about ourselves. Genuine compassion leads to love, but guilt does not. If after honest evaluation, you find yourself giving your time and attention to a person out of guilt, ask God to help you deal with the source of your guilt while helping you know what to say “yes” and “no” to in the relationship.  In some instances, this will mean learning to love that person from a distance, other times it will mean admitting you aren’t the best person to care for them. Other times it may mean completely redefining the relationship or even removing yourself from it. Regardless, don’t over think the Gifted Tie type of relationship and become consumed by it, that is often what guilt seeks to do… control you.

o.o4 – Don’t spend your life on a Fashion Statement – Though it may seem otherwise, people can’t make you any more important and or valuable than what you already are.  For some of us, we subscribe our value to the kinds of people we have in our lives. Believe it or not, the cool-kids lunch table you wanted to sit at in middle school carries on into adulthood. There are cool coworker tables, cool parents tables, cool professionals tables, and on and on.  Yes, the Bible counsels us that the people we draw close to us can be defining in our lives. We need to be selective about the people we bring to the closest levels of our relationships. However, that is more of an issue of integrity and wholeness, not popularity, fame, or standing. Spending our lives trying to attach ourselves to the fame, success, and popularity of other people is a waste of time. Putting on someone else’s clothes often doesn’t look good at all. Furthermore, trying to be someone we aren’t isn’t a very attractive look either.  God’s counsel is to be the first you, not a copy of someone else. Make the most of who you are and the platform God has given you. Be a fashion setter, not fashion seeker.

o.o5 – Force fitting the Shrunken Jeans never works – Not every relationships fits us. The very same person who makes for a great acquaintance, may not make a very healthy close friend. Furthermore, the very person who made for a great friend in one season of your life, may not make for a very good friend during another season of your life.  God is in the business of life change. Sometimes, as God changes us, our relationships need to to change too.  With some relationships, as God grows us, the relationship grows too. This is an ideal situation that should be cherished. With other relationships, as God grows us, the relationship tries to reel us back into who we were before and what we did, keeping us from moving forward.  In some relationships, the glue of the relationship is the not so good behavior or activity you did with them.  Once you grow out of that behavior, the relationship is threatened.  This is where, at times, we need to clean out the relationships closet and throw those old pair of jeans away, they just don’t fit and will keep us from moving forward with God.

Other times, we are the ones who shrink the relationship. We screw up and damage things. When this occurs, we need to fes up, repent, and ask for forgiveness with a commitment to rebuild the person’s trust over time. If this is granted, you should be thankful. If it is not granted, trying to force your way back into the relationship will not likely work well. In fact, it may end up hurting you and the situation more.  If the person is willing to stretch out with forgiveness and reconciliation, then one day the relationship may just fit again, even better and stronger than before. But if they aren’t, force fitting yourself into the relationship is a hopeless pursuit, and it may be time to simply move on.

o.o6 – Never take for granted your Favorite Sweater- It’s amazing how often we work on relationships that aren’t working and forget to work on relationships that are working. To keep that Favorite Sweater being your Favorite Sweater, it’s going to take some effort and work. The problem we can have with the Favorite Sweater is we leave it in the closet and forget about taking care of it while we busily try to develop and maintain some of the other types of relationships. Then, when we go to put on that Favorite Sweater, it is stretched out, dusty, or even a bit moldy. In short, the relationship isn’t as warm and fuzzy because we have not taken care of it as much as we should. The reason why that person(s) is your Favorite Sweater is because of the comfort, warmth, and encouragement the relationship brings to both of you. But without care, we can’t expect that to always be the case.

o.o7 – Choose to limit your emotional energy on Wrinkled Shirts- There really is no such thing as a wrinkle free shirt. Every relationship takes time, energy, and effort. However, some relationships are defined by having to maintain them through a lot of drama and issues. These are the exhausting relationships. With every turn, there seems to be some crisis, conflict, or wrinkle that needs to ironed out.  The truth is, the Wrinkled Shirt type of relationships often have deeper issues going on than we could every possibly remedy.  Though these persons cry out for attention and display issues that need dire fixing, the reality is, you or I aren’t likely going to be able to fix them. Sometimes, the best thing to do is refer them to the cleaners (so to speak), that is, professionals who are trained to deal with their level of issues and problems. Trying to play the neighborhood psychiatrist may in fact do more harm than good. As Christians, we have Jesus who is the solution to all the problems of the world, but how that solution gets integrated into a person’s life often has a lot more to with the person themselves aided by the help of a professional Christian counselor. There is a lot we can do as Christians to bring healing to wrinkled lives and relationships, but there is also a lot we can’t. Having the wisdom to distinguish the difference is key.

o.o8 – Avoid chasing after Catalogue displays-   At times, I have found value  in the statement, “If people can walk away, let them walk away.” This phrase refers to those relationships where we try to keep people in our lives that really make little to no effort to be in our lives. Sometimes, they flat out turn the corner and walk away. Like a catalogue, we can picture them in our Relationship Closet, but the reality is, they aren’t there and paying the cost to get them there isn’t going to be worth it in the end. If you have to beg, appease, plead, flatter, or otherwise try to convince people to be or stay in your life, they probably aren’t worthy being in your Relationship Closet to begin with. When relationships sour, we need to be willing to admit mistakes, repent, and go through the process of reconciliation, but forever begging and pleading, appeasing and convincing those who clearly aren’t interested in being a part of your life is not what God does with us, nor intends for us. If they can walk away, let them walk away. God’s future for you isn’t tied to their presence in your life.

Closing Thoughts

God gives us the beautiful gift of relationships. As we steward our Relationship Closet, on one side of the coin we will likely find relationships in our closet that with a bit of nurturing and care can be transformed instead of discarded. Yet at the same time, we will likely find relationships that truly no longer fit, for whatever reason can’t be patched, or clearly work against what God is doing, and should be redefined or even completely removed.

When Church Hurts

I believe God’s church is the hope of the world through Jesus Christ. When a church is healthy and vibrant it is the best thing going on the planet. As a pastor of 17 years, I have experienced the best and worst of what a church can become and do.  There is no greater thrill than to find your place in God’s church and accomplish with others what you could never achieve on your own for the glory of God and the building of His Kingdom. Through God’s church, vital needs in life our met that can’t be met anywhere else.  Indeed, church is a beautiful thing, praise be to God!

However, there are many who have not had the best experiences with “church.”  Some would even say that they have been badly hurt by their church experiences. At the extreme level, there are those who have encountered spiritual, emotional, and physical abuse within their church life. The documentary, “Deliver us from Evil” is a sobering, disgusting example.

In a recent report from Focus on the Family, “Approximately 22 million Americans say they are Christians and made a faith commitment to Jesus Christ, and say that commitment is still important to them, but they have struggled with faith or relational issues and therefore quit going to church.”

I am sure that what constitutes as a bad church experience is a highly subjective matter of personal opinion. Furthermore, I have often seen where a bad church experience has become a convenient excuse for people to entirely disconnect from church and adopt a spiritually lazy life. The “church” has often become an easy blame and a perfect scapegoat from what are really problems with the person themselves and not the church as a whole.  Churches are never perfect, but they aren’t always the problem.

Yet, there are many who have had legitimately hurtful church experiences that have had much more to do with the unhealth of a church than anything about them personally.  These instances are disappointing and discouraging to say the least. It’s unfortunate when people who are trying to be good, go to a church gone bad. From my experience, I could even go so far as to say that in America we suffer from a church health crisis. This reality is truly the elephant sitting in the Christian culture room.  In the name of christian, political correctness, not many want to really say it or even see it, but the truth is, in America, we have more clubs with crosses on top of them than mission centers focused on spreading the Gospel and creating worshipers of Jesus.

Dave Olson, the director of church planting for the Evangelical Covenant Church, has made some interesting projections regarding what is going to happen to church attendance in America if current trends continue. According to Olson, only 18.7 percent of all Americans regularly attend church.  If this number continues to decline at the current pace, Olson says that the percentage of Americans attending church in 2050 will be about half of what it is today.  Other research has concluded similar findings. According to a study accomplished  by LifeWay Research, membership in Southern Baptist churches will fall nearly 50 percent by the year 2050 if current trends persist.

Is church health entirely to blame for the decline of people going to church? No. Is it a big factor? I would say, yes.  If the saying, “As the family goes, so does the community and the culture” applies, than the saying, “As the church goes, so does Christianity” must also have some relevance.

Does the American christian church have a lot of work to do? Yes. Do people who attend churches additionally bare a lot of  responsibility for their own church experiences? Yes, absolutely.

So, what do you do when Church hurts?

o.o1 Examine yourself- The last question that people typically ask after having a bad church experience is, “Was any of this my own fault?”  Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn’t. Taking time for some soul-searching discernment will partner with God to help you move forward and grow through your experience.  Bad church experiences can get very emotional and personal.  Seeking the counsel of objective people who can speak the truth in love into your life would be a great step.  As my mother would say to my sisters and I, “It takes two to tango.”  Don’t be surprised if you find that part of the bad experience you had with church is at least in part your responsibility. It may or may not be your fault, but it may be some of your responsibility. Are there occasions when people are burnt by church entirely separate from any wrong doing or responsibility on their part? Yes, absolutely.  Yet examining yourself will help to know what role if any you played in the negative experience.

o.o2 Gain perspective- As you take a hard look in the mirror, it will be important to really get a clear perspective on what actually happened. So often, in the midst of a bad church experiences, the truth and the facts can get highly distorted and emotionally charged. There typically are many issues at play behind the scenes… power, vision, structure, authority, heart, faith etc.  Obviously, you may never be able to piece together everything, but doing your best to step outside of the experience and see thing clearly will be helpful. Conflict in churches is usually about issues of vision. Two or more people simply have different visions for things. Unfortunately, these issues of division get spiritualized and emotionalized. This is when things get ugly and hurtful. Most churches don’t have a shared vision to begin with nor a clear definition of what are essential issues of unity and what are not. Many churches are set up (likely unintentionally) in ways that breed conflict and harbor it.

Therefore, most bad church experiences are really symptomatic of underlying problems within the church’s DNA. Again, you may never be able to connect all the dots, but realizing there are probably a lot pieces to the puzzle that led to your negative church experience helps you to own what is your part and disown what is not.

o.o3 Curb expectations- Sometimes people have unrealistic expectations of church life. First, they think that people who go to church should be perfect. I firmly agree that church life should manifest a higher relational and moral standard than that of the world, but churches aren’t perfect.  Not unlike the world, there are moments of conflict in church. How churches handle conflict and prevent it in the first place is what’s critical.  Expecting church life to be conflict free and even hurt free is unrealistic. Second, many people expect church to be primarily about them. From the style of worship to what is offered for their children, many christians are spiritual consumers with a mindset that church should be about meeting their personal spiritual needs. They approach church like a spiritual vending machine.  Thus, when some aspect of church becomes a little challenging, uncomfortable, or disheartening, they are quick to cry foul and label church as “not for me.” Well, in some ways they are correct, church isn’t just “for you.”  Rather, church is primarily to be about people who are far from God. Therefore, when we expect church to be about aligning our hearts, lives, and resources towards a common vision and mission to reach people far from God and grow in Christ-likeness it is then that we are much better positioned to field the moments when church hurts.  When we expect church to be a place where we connect with a spiritual family as we come under the authority and care of the shepherd of the church, we adopt a mindset of much better expectations. In fact, the expectations shift from “what’s in it for me?” to “what can I contribute?”

o.o4 Choose carefully- If you ask most people why they go to the church they attend it’s typically primarily for emotional reasons… their friends or family go there, it’s convenient, it’s politically beneficial, it benefits their work, they have always gone there, they were married there, they like some ministry that is offered etc.  Though many churches have developed membership classes where people are instructed on the vision, design, and beliefs of the church, most people don’t look into these aspects of a church. So many bad church experiences could have been prevented with a well developed and required membership class that the entire church must attend and buy into. Secondly, when a church is structured properly and the right people are serving in the right roles, bad church experiences are greatly reduced.

Before you consistently attend a church you should know…

1- What the vision of the church is.  

If a church can’t tell you specifically what they are about, what their values are, and where they are going, you probably don’t want to get on board. Furthermore, if you sense there is division in the church, you will probably want to avoid it.  Churches that are family run or without demographic diversity should be entered with caution. A church should be able to tell you specifically what God’s vision is for them, what they are focused on, what their values are, and what their goals are for the future. Ask the leadership these type of question and then also ask attenders of the church. If you consistently get conflicting answers, you may want to keep church shopping. Furthermore, if the church can’t give you clear answers, that may be a symptom of deeper problems.

A great follow up question is, “What have you done in the last six months towards the vision and future you just spoke of?” A church is becoming tomorrow what they are doing today. If they talk a big talk, but can’t show you how their current ministry is leading towards the future, you may want to proceed with caution.  Unfortunately, some churches can be like a used car lot, they will tell you all kinds of things to close the deal.

A church should have a vision that 1) reaches people far from God and connects them to His Church 2) grows believers into spiritual maturity as they learn to follow Christ and reach nonbelievers 3) minsters to the poor and needy 4) builds healthy, spiritual community 5) equips people for spiritual service and leadership 6) and worships God with passion and Truth.

A church should be a mission center, not a maintenance ministry.

2- Where authority and power are placed.

Churches can become very political. Unfortunately, many churches are structured democratically in ways that attract political, power hungry people. If you detect that the pastor/and or staff are seen and handled as merely the hired hands, you probably want to take note. Pastors are leaving churches and even the ministry at staggering rates. Most of the time it’s because of an issue of power where a group of people or families want to run the church. On the other side of the coin, if you see a pastor/and or staff that has no accountability set up with other pastors/elders, you should also take note. Pastors need to have the freedom to lead and shepherd a church, but when you see them dictating people’s personal lives and taking the lone-ranger approach to ministry, this could be problematic.  The best system I have seen of accountability is where a pastor/and or staff  have a group of outside pastors that serve as an accountability team for their leadership and the overall ministry. This can also be formed with elders within the church as long as those elders are appointed (verses elected), approved by the congregation, and have been trained and tested. Healthy accountability never seeks to manage leadership, but rather to protect it.

3- How people are equipped and placed to serve.

Bad church experiences can be created by having the wrong people serving in the wrong places. In many churches, people are serving in ways that are based on merely what they want to do or feel obligated to do. This can be a prescription for negative experiences.  When people serve merely from the motivation of self-satisfaction or desire, people can tend to get “sticky fingers” and personal agendas.  They get territorial and see their role or area of ministry as “theirs.”  We want people to serve in their area of passion, but not selfishly. Secondly, when people get roped or guilted into serving, they end up serving in areas outside of their passion and giftedness. This ends up being a loss for them and a loss for the ministry. On top of all this, when no discernment is given to spiritual maturity, people end up serving in areas beyond their ability to do so and a negative situation is almost certain to arise.

Finding a church where people are placed and equipped to serve by the staff based on their passion, spiritual gifting, and maturity apart from guilt, obligation, or personal desire alone is critical.        

4- What the beliefs of the church are.  

Most churches have a statement of their beliefs, make sure you have familiarized yourself with them before getting deeply connected. Furthermore, make sure that you are familiar with all their doctrinal beliefs. Not all critical doctrinal beliefs are necessarily articulated in a church’s beliefs statement.

5- What the church’s stance on critical issues are.

What does the church believe about politics, abortion, homosexuality, Calvinism, divorce, Masonic Lodge, racism, Bible translations, tithing etc.?  Sometimes we get so inspired by our first experiences in a church that we don’t look under the hood before we get involved or join.  Yet, these are the kind of issues that come up down the road that can lead to negative experiences.  Make sure you go into a church “eyes wide opened” and thoroughly look behind the scenes to find out what that church is all about. First impressions are great, but can also be deceiving.  A ounce of upfront discernment and information seeking can pay off tremendously later on in preventing negative church experiences.

It’s Always Personal

So, have you heard the phrase, “It’s nothing personal?”  Of course you have, and probably in the same conversation you also heard something like “Don’t take this personally…”

As a leader, I have heard those words countless times.  And quite honestly, I don’t buy it.

The truth about leadership and ministry is, it’s always personal.  If it has to do with people in any way shape or form, it’s personal.

I’m not saying that some people don’t have some worthy intentions when they drop the “it’s nothing personal” phrase, but let’s be honest. To me, the use of that phrase is often a huge copout and really a way of saying, “What I am communicating is actually personal, I just want you to be o.k. with it so I can be o.k. with it. I want to say it without you taking it to heart so I don’t have to take responsibility for the damage.”

It’s almost as if as long as you preface your statement with “Don’t take this personally…” you can get away with saying just about anything and the person is left to conclude that any offense or check in their spirit they feel in response is out of bounds and a sure sign their emotional pits are sweating with too much sensitivity.  I am sorry, did my jaws dropping or the veins popping out on my neck give it away? You just told me my face looks like my neck just threw up, and it’s nothing personal?

With God, there isn’t one thing He does, says, or initiates that doesn’t relate in some way to people. For God, it’s always personal. Love is personal, sin is personal, faith is personal, and the list goes on and on.

The problem with people and their relationship with Jesus isn’t that their relationship with Him is too personal, it’s that it’s not personal enough.

The problem with Church isn’t that it’s too personal, it’s that some times it’s not personal enough.

The problem within ministry and leadership cultures isn’t that things become too personal, it’s that they don’t become personal enough.

When we face tough conversations that require a bit of truth telling or hard discussions, maybe we should avoid the cop out road of “It’s nothing personal” and go with some better options.

Options like… “This hurts me as much to say, as it may be for you to hear it” or “I need to get something on the table here, but our relationship is so important to me that above all else, I really hope we can work this through” or “I am not sure I/we can say ‘yes’ to this right now, but I hope you don’t lose heart and feel like I/we have left your side or don’t believe in you” or “We need to move in a different direction, and I/we understand how your heart is connected to all of this on so many levels, so I/we hope if possible God can either show us how to move in this direction together or He will shows us the purposes and opportunity He has behind us going our separate ways, yet still connected in Christ.”

Finding the right words during and before hard conversations is tough stuff, but no matter what we do, maybe we need to take “It’s nothing personal” off the list of options. The moment we say, “It’s not personal” or “Don’t take this personally” is the moment we show just how personal it really is.

Why? Cause it’s always personal.

Is it Gossip or Not?

A gossip is a person who creates the smoke in which other people assume there’s fire.  -Anonymous

In the Book of Proverbs it reads… “Words have the power of life and death”   -Proverbs 18:21

For many of us, we underestimate this truth, we underestimate the power of words, and when it comes to our own words we underestimate the damage we can cause in people’s lives simply by the things we say. Often times, we miss realizing how something so effortless and easy as words could be so powerful, but it’s true, words have the power of life and death.

Think about the power of words. When God created the whole word, the Bible tells us that God actually spoke it into being, “…and God said, let there be light” With all creation, the moment God spoke it, it happened.

We underestimate the power of our words. So what happens?  At times we are careless with them, even reckless. We spend our words often as if they don’t count and don’t really matter.  However, Jesus taught the opposite.

Jesus spoke of the importance if words, as a matter of fact, they are so important that…

Matthew 12:36-37 says…
But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

Guys like king David in the Bible learned the power of words…

Post a guard at my mouth, God, set a watch at the door of my lips.” – Psalm 141:3, MSG

David realized these things called words are super powerful, and he’d better be careful. Words are powerful in ways that we could never imagine…

In fact…

o.o1 Words show exactly what’s in the heart.

Luke 6:45  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.

You know there are really only two things we need to observe in a person’s life to get a good sense of the condition of their heart, one is there checkbook, (Jesus said where you treasure is, there will be your heart also) the other is the words they say, how they talk, what they say, and what they talk about. Words reveal the secret condition of the heart, people who trash talk, people who say mean things, people who gossip, people who use profanity first have a problem in their heart.

You can’t separate what people say and the condition of their heart, words mirror the heart. That’s how it works.

I remember the first church I pastored, there was this guy who looked all spiritual, everybody had the impression that he was some really great, faithful christian. He carried a bible around at all times, he has to be a super Christian right?  Well, one day he was helping to put some siding on one our buildings and he hit his thumb with the hammer. Out of his mouth came about every cuss word you could think of. Everybody was in shock.  What was deep within his heart was revealed in his words.

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

If you go to church, think about church life. If you work, think about your office life. When you see people getting around their agendas and talking it up, people murmuring about what they don’t like going on and what they are going to do about, and people having little secret conversations about this person or that person, you know, there’s a pretty good chance, some sin is going on as some not good things from the heart are coming out in words.

In college, I use to curse like a sailor, but when God changed my heart, my words changed almost overnight.  Why?  Because words reveal the heart, you can’t get around it, it’s like the guy at the church who hit his thumb, eventually you are found out, your words give you away. As Jesus taught, how we talk, what we say when we talk, the kind of words we choose, and how we use words in life say more about the condition of our heart than perhaps anything else.

o.o2 Words powerfully influence our future

James 3:3-6  When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal.  Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go.  Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark.  The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

Here, James is teaching us that how we speak, what we say to our self, and the words we put out actually steer our lives, like a rudder steers a boat.

Jesus taught His disciples about the power of words one day while walking along the road when he cursed a fig tree. When they went back that same way the next morning, the tree had withered from the roots.

And then he told them, Mark 11:22-24 22 “Have faith in God,” Jesus answered. “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.  Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.

See, there is a very real and biblical sense that your future is tied into how you speak to yourself and to others. Imagine if we were to start speaking towards the kind of future we want to have. The Bible says we reap what we sow.  So, we can’t expect to be speaking words of death to ourselves and to others and then it result in a future full of life.  If all you are speaking is death into your marriage, or your children, or your church, or your work, or your health, or your self-worth, you can’t expect it to translate into a future full of life.

So, instead of letting the confessions of your heart and the words you speak be tainted with death, defeat, and doubt, they need to be anointed with the oil of faith, trust, hopefulness, and love. Words can have a powerful determination of your future. How do you expect your marriage to turn around when all you say to yourself and maybe even to your spouse is, “this is never going to get any better, I just don’t see this thing ever working out?” How do you expect your self-esteem and confidence to get any better when all you say to yourself and even to other people is “I’m too fat”  or  “I am not as good as they are” or  “I have made too many mistakes?”

We need to be speaking the Word of God and speaking from the Word of God into our life. Change your self talk, change the way you talk to others, and you can change your future and maybe theirs too.

o.o3 Words can make or break other people

When it comes to the words we speak, not only is our future at stake, but other people’s futures are at stake.

Proverbs 12:18 Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

What’s this saying? Our words are on of the most powerful weapons we  have for good or for bad, and the choice is ours.

If you are the kind of person that isn’t careful with your words, do you realize what your gossip and trash talking is doing? Do you have any sense of what your mean, hurtful words are causing?  There is almost nothing more powerful to hurt people, to hurt an organization, and to get in the way of God than gossip, trash talking, and talking negatively about people or things going on.

You say, “Well, how do I know if I am gossiping, or trash talking, how do I know if it is gossip or not?

Here is a way that has been helpful for me… T.H.I.N.K about what you are saying before you say it. If you answer “no” to any of the following, there is a pretty good chance that what you are about to say is gossip.

T-   Is it True?  Do you know for sure that what you are about to say is a fact?  Did you learn it first hand, and therefore it’s not just your own opinion or somebody else’s?  Have you spoken with that person directly and confirmed your assumptions? If not, you may need to just zip it.

H-  Is it Helpful? Is your talking about whatever it is going to help or hurt, make more problems or less problems, create conflict or solve it, or help the situation or make it worse?  Is what you are going to say speaking more about your agenda or God’s? Is it something that God wants you to say, or something you alone want to say?  If what you want to say isn’t going to help God, that person, or the situation, if it isn’t going to partner with the Holy Spirit, you may need to just zip it.

I-   Is it Inspiring?  Does it put that person in the best light and give the benefit of the doubt? Does it believe in the best, does it hope for the best? Does it promote wholesome talk or pollute it? Does it cause others to believe in the best, or does it cause others to conclude the worst.  If it assumes the worst, you may just need to zip it.

N-   Is it Necessary?  Does what you want to say really need to be said? Is it really anybody’s else’s business? Is it necessary for you to talk about?.  Should you be talking about it with other people when you haven’t even gone face to face with that person? If it isn’t completely necessary, you may just need to zip it.

K-   Is it Kind? Does it build, does it speak the truth in love? Are your words the same kind of words Jesus would say about that person?  Are your words motivated out of real love and wanting to see the best happen in that person’s life or the situation at hand?  If not, you may need to zip it.

Sure, there are moments when tough things absolutely need to be said, emotions need to be vented, and difficult situations dealt with. Jesus himself had some very tough conversations and some verbally poignant things to say to and about people. Some, that could even be considered hurtful and mean-spirited. At times, there is nothing politically correct, watered down, nor polished about Jesus and His use of words.  Yet, the over all principal remains…

Ephesians 4:29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.

It really is true, words have great power.

Just ask the parents of Megan Mier, a 13 year old who was bullied on myspace with words. Message after message was sent to her by one particular boy, messages like, “The world would be a better place without you.”  The words got so bad and destructive that in her room one afternoon, she hung herself with tears in her eyes.

We can use words to harm people or to heal people. Never underestimate the power of words. The choice is ours. Jesus used words to do the miraculous, and He commands us to do the same.

“I can live two months on a good compliment.” –Mark Twain

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