Nov 262014

ThanksLiving: How to Live a Life of Thanks in an Ungrateful World

We understand the importance of gratitude. There is little doubt our communities, marriages, and lives would be better if we lived in a consistent state of appreciation for all we have.

At a conceptual level we know our good fortune and believe we should be more grateful in every aspect of life.

But knowing what one should do is not the same as knowing how to do it.

How do we have gratitude? How can we live in a mindset completely opposed to the entitled, ungrateful, whiny, empty way most people live?

The answer is far simpler than we realize.

Grateful people search for the good.

Everyone else finds the bad. (See: The Day I Stole an Airline Ticket to See Jenny)

It doesn’t require a unique gift to find the negative in any situation. No one is perfect so there are problems all around.

Finding the good does require effort. It is rarely on the surface or in the spotlight. Most often the best of things lie hidden underneath an appearance of normalcy or the mundane. Our eyes are easily misdirected from the good by fault or mistake. While negative qualities often leap off a page, the positive attributes of people or circumstances most often are overlooked.

But some can see them. Some have trained their eyes in such a way that they can see good where no one else can.

The chemo-weary cancer patient who understands the kindness of a nurse is a gift and calls attention to it.

The grief-stricken widower who in the midst of sorrow can feel gratitude for the good memories and occasionally smile.

The struggling young couple who finds it difficult to make ends meet but still feels gratitude that they have one another.

Grateful people have a unique ability to find the good which is around them. They do not deny the bad. They do not turn a blind eye to suffering or refuse to speak of sorrow. But in the midst of the negative experiences of life, they actively seek the positive, identify it, celebrate it, and recount it for others to hear.

In a world which is fixated on the bad, what if we had an uncanny ability to find the good?

How would it change:

Marriage. When marriages go bad, individuals often fixate on the negative and blame one another for everything wrong in the relationship. In good marriages, couples experience problems but they see those problems as existing outside the relationship and something they as a couple can attack. Those problems are viewed as minor negatives compared to an overarching climate of good. (See: “Please” and “Thank You” Matter as Much as Sex)

Parenting. While parents are consistently having to spot problems, correct, and discipline children, it is also our job to encourage them. How many times a day do we catch our children doing good and call their attention to it? Which is more powerful, critiquing a child or encouraging her? (See: A Father’s Primary Role)

Community. It’s easy to find the negative in governments, social organizations, and communities, but what if we spent our energy encouraging those who are working for the good? Send a card, write an email, give a gift to someone who is making a positive difference in the lives of others.

Life would be radically different if we lived in a constant state of gratitude, but how do we do so? In the midst of difficult times and with a natural bent toward seeing problems, how do we foster a continual mindset of gratitude?

Consider a drug-sniffing dog. A considerable amount of hours are spent training some dogs to identify drugs based on smell. Most of the training occurs by teaching the dog to focus on a specific smell and then hiding it in various places with many different distractions. Over time, the dog becomes more and more adept at locating what it is looking for.

What if we became the bloodhounds for good? What if we spent a considerable amount of time training our noses to seek the good no matter how hidden it might be or how many distractions were presented? (See: A Simple Way to Better Your Day)

We would begin the process by becoming so familiar with the good that we can recognize even its faintest smell.

The reason most people fail to recognize the good which is hidden in everyday life is because they do not train their minds to look for it. If you regularly see, touch, taste, hear, and smell that which is good, you will be far more likely to identify the good. Like a trainer rubbing a smell in a dog’s nose, we must intentionally rub our noses in the good on a daily basis. If we do not, we will lose our ability to recognize the good things in our lives.

As Paul writes to the church at Philippi, “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

As we “think about these things” we will begin to see “these things” more and more. They are all around us. Some see them and some don’t.

Those who see them find gratitude. Those who are blind to them resort to a feeling of entitlement, disappointment, and bitterness.

In order to give thanks, we have to live thanks. As we live it, we give it.

 

Nov 242014

Lament: A Christian Response When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

It’s a picture which displays a deeper tragedy. Protesters setting a vehicle on fire underneath a “Season’s Greetings” sign.

Two days before our nation stops to give thanks for all the blessings God has given us, our nation is divided. The facts of the individual situation are nearly unknown. Time may, or may not tell, what took place last summer in a St. Louis suburb.

But how should a Christian respond? Told to give thanks in all things, what is a rightful response to protesters standing for justice and police officers trying to keep peace?

I think there is a Biblical answer to these strange circumstances. (See: A Dangerous Assumption About God’s Will)

We are not the first generation to struggle with the tension between acknowledging the blessings God has given us and trying to understand the strife and struggle of living in a sin-stained world.

Ironically, it is the often forgotten precursor of Biblical thanksgiving which provides our action step in times of trouble.

The Bible is full of words of thanksgiving. The Biblical writers sing the praises of God recounting his faithfulness to his people. Yet many times throughout Scripture, thanksgiving is often preceded by lament.

Lament is a forgotten form of prayer in which we cry out to God from our grief, pain, sorrow, and confusion. It’s present in the Psalms, the Prophets, and many other sections of Scripture. A whole book of the Bible is called Lamentations.

At its heart, lament is an honest communication with God in which we confess our hurt and question his activity as a sovereign God. It’s a way of prayer which feels unnatural, even inappropriate. If it wasn’t for the Biblical examples of this type of prayer, I would never encourage someone to direct their angry words toward God. (See: It’s Okay to Laugh and Cry)

Yet God is far more comfortable with our emotions than I often am. While the Bible might give several restrictions of how we should talk about God, it never restrains how we can talk to him. As long as our words are an honest reflection of our heart and are directed to God, we are free to speak to him.

He welcomes our words even if he doesn’t fully answer our questions.

He encourages the dialogue, if we will truly allow him to speak.

He listens even when we don’t know all the facts.

So what should a Christian do when the current events of our day bring sorrow to our hearts? Maybe we should tell God how we feel. Maybe we should cry out for the injustice of the world. Maybe we should question what God is doing and remind him of how he has acted in the past. Maybe we should lament. (See: God Controls Our Darkest Days)

We should cry out, asking God why he allows a few people to cause so much chaos.

We should confess that we don’t know what to do to make things right, but we want things to be right.

We should question why God doesn’t make truth more evident.

We should scream that this world is broken and we need God to intervene.

This is the response of a believer. This is the reaction of someone who truly believes God exists, is active in this world, is powerful, can intervene, and desires for his will to be done.

Failing to lament is often a confession of our doubt. When we stay silent before God it reveals that we question his power or love or existence. We see no use is communicating with him. So we debate with our friends, we post on social media, we discuss with our co-workers, but we never have enough faith to actually talk to God about the situation.

This is not the way of a Christian. The way of a believer is to lament to God. (See: How to Pray in the Dark)

It’s interesting, the process of lament always follows the same Biblical pattern. What begins with God’s people screaming at God about the injustices of the world, always ends with God’s people recounting the great faithfulness of God.

Lament always turns to thanksgiving because as we direct our attention toward God, we are reminded of his compassionate love toward us.

As I watch the sorrow in Ferguson unfold live, I pray to God wondering why he allows confusion to run rampant. I ask him why he allows children to suffer and communities to burn. But as I question God, my faith in God grows even stronger. While I do not know the answers to this situation or many others, I do trust him more than I doubt him. And I will believe him even when I don’t understand him.

Nov 242014

You Should Be Very Afraid

FDR said, “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Jon Acuff says, we need to “punch fear in the face.”

Even I have confessed, “fear leads me too often.”

There is no doubt that fear can be a great enemy to advancement, production, art, and success. Fear can paralyze us, rendering us useless to ourselves, our families, and others.

Many of our fears are built off false assumptions, false beliefs, and false outcomes. (See: Clowns in the Closet)

I have little doubt that many fears should be ignored and we should act with great boldness in an attempt to accomplish our dreams and doing meaningful work.

But on occasion, we should be afraid—very afraid.

Fear is not all bad. Much of it is good. It’s useful. It’s productive. It’s reality.

We shouldn’t ignore all fear. We shouldn’t believe that all fear is a figment of our imaginations.

Many fears should be faced, realized, and our actions should be different because of it.

It is just as dangerous to live recklessly in denial of fear as it is to live apathetically having been paralyzed by fear. Neither action is an appropriate response to reality.

One of the great failures of leaders is not to recognize the fears of those they lead, call attention to it, empathize with it, and assist others through it.

When a leader downplays or ignores rightful fears they are sending the message that they are either oblivious to what others are feeling or they believe those feelings are wrong. The leader is either ignorant or calloused. Neither of which is helpful to the relationship between leader and follower. (See: What Every Parent Should Know as Kids Go to School)

I would much rather a dental hygienist say, “this might sting,” than one who says, “this won’t hurt” when it actually does or says “oh, that doesn’t hurt” when I’m wrenching in pain.

By recognizing my emotion and giving it credibility, a leader builds trust with others and empowers them to do what is right in the midst of discomfort. Whenever we propose an action and recognize the fears which that request creates, it makes it more likely for others to follow us. The pain actually validates the path which the leader has chosen. Yet when a leader lives in denial of those fears, a painful experience can cause someone to question the path the leader has chosen. (See: Trust Is Everything in Marriage)

Life is full of scary things. Unintended consequences can happen. Bad choices can be made. We can fall victim to the seeming randomness of life through disease, crime, or disaster.

If the only thing we have to fear is fear itself, we don’t need insurance, we can ignore medical check-ups, and no one needs Social Security. But,of course, there is much more to fear in life than just fear itself.

Good leaders recognize the fears of others and they speak to it. They name it; they emphasize with it; they reveal how they feel many of the same emotions. But then they state an idea, plan of action, or response which is right in spite of the fear.

When it comes to fear, we must identify within ourselves and others which type of fear we are facing:

Some fear is false. When a fear is false, we must assist a person through the emotions and help them write a proper story.

In freshman speech class, nearly every student is afraid. Yet much of their fears are false. They are afraid they may freeze, throw-up, or say something stupid. All of those are possible outcomes. However, they also fear the class will laugh at them, mock them, and put them through a horrific hazing experience which might forever hinder their lives. These are not likely outcomes. Having taught Freshman speech, I’ve listened to many bad speeches, but I’m yet to have a class laugh at a student. When a bad speech happens, the class doesn’t laugh, they stop looking. They feel so bad for their classmate (usually because they fear making a bad speech themselves) that they stop making eye contact. After the speech no one says anything. While this is not a good outcome, it is not one full of great fear either.

Part of leadership is helping others recognize false fears and replacing it with more likely outcomes.

Some fear is true. When a fear is true, a leader must recognize the emotion, admit the possibilities, and then promote an idea or action which is the most legitimate response to that fear.

When a person faces a serious illness, fear is an understandable feeling. No matter how ready someone believes they are for death, it is still frightening. Many families and some doctors are not very gracious toward patients. Because the family or doctor isn’t emotionally prepared enough to talk about possible death, they do not let the patient confess their fears of dying. This hinders relationships and treatments. It forces some patients to pretend as though they are feeling perfectly fine even when they are not. It creates a sense of isolation and loneliness. A better way is for everyone to recognize a good or bad outcome are both possible. Depending on the illness and treatment they may not be equally likely, but they are both possible. By identifying the possibilities and voicing them, families and medical professionals give room for the patient to tell what they are feeling. It helps the patient process what is happening and keeps them from living in either denial or despair.

Part of leadership is helping others recognize true fears and confront them with appropriate responses.

Fear is a real part of life and leadership. A good leader will recognize its presence within the leader, followers, and the community. They will confront false fears with truth and will meet true fears with honesty and courage. (See: Jesus, Leadership, and the Courage to Serve)

Ignoring fear might be easier in the short-term, but admitting fear and responding properly is a better form of leadership.

Nov 212014

Why Can’t We See In Ourselves What We See In Others

I didn’t think there was anything wrong with the Facebook post, but I could be wrong.

Clearly someone thought I was wrong.

I was in Wal-Mart and happened to wander into their book section. The most prominent book displayed in the Christian section was a book allegedly about Biblical prophecy. In my theological opinion it has nothing to do with prophecy or the Bible. It’s a get-rich-quick scheme based on scaring people into thinking the world might end tomorrow because of how poorly our political opponents are acting.

So I took a picture and made a slightly humorous comment showing I didn’t support the book.

Many people responded to the post—some in support, some attempting humor, and some disagreeing. It was an engaging thread until someone took deep exception to my post. They didn’t just disagree with my point, they made deep judgments about my heart. They questioned my role as a pastor; let it be known they would never visit the church I pastor, discouraged others from attending, and while admitting pastors are human said we should live to a higher standard than I was doing.

When I read the critique, two thoughts quickly passed my mind.

First, I wondered am I guilty of what the person is accusing? Anytime someone accuses us of something, we should consider their point. Even if we do not like their approach, we should examine our hearts to see if they need to be corrected. Maybe the post was out of bounds. Maybe it didn’t accomplish what I wanted. Maybe there was a better way to go about it. (See: Criticism–How to Listen When Others Speak)

Secondly, I wondered why I can’t see in myself what is so easy to see in others. In other words, how do I fail the way this person failed?

Notice the irony of the comment: a Christian took to Facebook to tell me on Facebook that I should never critique another person on Facebook. As a pastor, they thought I should know better and they were appalled at the condition of my heart which would allow me to be so negative.

My five-year-old self wanted to respond: “So you don’t want me to do to others what you just did to me?” But my 36-year-old self restrained my childish response and instead asked the question: “Why can’t I see in myself what is so obvious in others.”

It’s easy to see fault in the lives of other people. They are selfish, condescending, childish, petty, rude, mean, short-sighted, and often wrong. And it’s not just that they are all of those things, but they are all of those things in blatant and obvious ways.

Yet common sense tells me I’m not unique. Whatever is so obvious to me about other people is likely very obvious about me to other people. While I may not sin in the exact way as someone else, I no doubt sin to the same degree and frequency. So why is it so easy to see in others but so difficult to see in myself? (See: Stop Breaking the Ninth Commandment on Facebook)

What are some ways I condemn in others the very thing I’m doing?

Of course it is much more difficult to see our own sin and shortcomings because it takes maturity to do so. A child can easily point at their sibling and tattle. But it takes real maturity to step outside of ourselves, look at our actions objectively, and judge our thoughts or actions as inappropriate. Then it takes tremendous humility to admit fault and confess our imperfections.

Attacking other people is much easier than reflecting on our own actions.

Yet we must do the hard work. (See: How to Respond to Mean People)

We cannot go through life writing the story that we are good and everyone else is bad. We cannot make it our call in life to point out the faults of everyone else. We must do the mature work of looking at our own lives.

This doesn’t mean we can ignore our responsibility to stand up for truth. Bad actions, ideas, and beliefs do need to be confronted. We can’t remain silent. We must walk the fine line of standing on the side of truth with humility and self-confession.

Here are three questions which should help us look first at ourselves before others:

1. Whenever we are outraged by others, ask: What is it within me that causes me to be so outraged by them? Turn the focus back on your heart and your actions.

2. Whenever we are quick to assume we are holy and someone else is not, ask: What are some ways I sin in a similar fashion to how they are sinning? Refuse to fall for the delusion that I’m morally superior to others.

3. Whenever we are tempted to point out something which is wrong, ask, How can I highlight disagreement with an action or idea without attacking the person’s heart?

I’m still open to the thought I shouldn’t have posted what I did on Facebook. I don’t think I was wrong, but maybe I was. I’m convinced the book is bad and should not be supported, but maybe my attitude was not appropriate. (See: Drama Addicts–Why Your Friend is Always Stressed)

Yet I wonder less about that one post and more about the posts, comments, and actions which I don’t even recognize are wrong. I’m afraid I’m doing to others what I do not like done to me. And I’m doing so with out even seeing it.

 

Nov 202014

Drill, Rest, Then Drill Again

Getting a tooth filled is not painful, but it is exhausting. Modern techniques have taken the pain of dental work away. The only part that is painful is the process of numbing the pain. While most shots do not hurt, a few of them carry a few seconds of significant pain. But after the shots, the pain is gone.

Yet the lack of pain doesn’t make the work refreshing. It’s wearisome.

When I was a kid, I had a good amount of dental work done. All these years later the work needs to be redone. Apparently fillings have a shelf life.

If it were just about pain tolerance, my dentist could give me a mouthful of shots and redo every filling I’ve ever had in one sitting. It would be cost-effective and time efficient; instead the work will be broken into several sessions. I will block the time on my schedule, drive to the dentist, wait the twenty minutes for my mouth to numb, let him do his work, and come back another time for the whole process to begin again.

Why? (See: Why Some Relationships Succeed and Others Fail)

Why wouldn’t I just do all the work at once. He would prefer it. I would only be inconvenienced once. And it would be over.

The problem is I can’t tolerate the discomfort for too long. While there isn’t any pain, dental work is not comfortable. There are bright lights, an apparatus holding my mouth open, foreign objects poking and prodding, drilling, and the irritating Mr. Thirsty making sure I don’t gag on my own saliva.

In short doses, it’s tolerable, but after a certain period of time I need a break.

A good dentist can sense it. She knows when the patient can endure drilling and when he needs a break. She knows the right time to get the work done and the right time to let the patient rest.

Our lives are filled with cavities. There are places where decay has set in and what we need the most is for someone to drill away that which is no longer useful and to fill the space with something productive. It’s a need. (See: Everyone’s Pain Is Just Below the Surface)

Yet if you have a drill in your hand, you can’t just focus on the need. You also have to consider the tolerance of the patient. Drilling needs to occur, but don’t blindly drill until the problem is solved. Drill then rest.

Rest, not because you need to be replenished, but because the patient needs time to recover. Their nerves need to relax. The bright light needs to be turned off. The tension needs to be released.

Rest and then drill again. (See: When Life Seems Out of Control)

When it comes to confronting problems, people tend to make one of two mistakes.

Some drill at the issue with no concern of others. They see a problem and they attack it. Their boldness is admirable, but their work is rarely effective. Instead of attacking a problem, it feels as though they are attacking people. The issue might be confronted but the relationship is broken.

Others never drill because drilling is never fun. No one goes to the dentist and asks him to drill on a tooth because they miss the feeling. Even with numb gums, having a tooth drilled is nerve-racking. It’s a necessary experience, but not an enjoyable one. Some people never confront difficult issues because confrontation is always uncomfortable. Afraid of making others uncomfortable, some people never deal with hard issues.

The need is for balance.

We must have the courage to engage in difficult situations and circumstances for the well-being of others and society.

We must have the discernment to know when those we are helping can best tolerate the drill and when we need to let them rest.

When a couple is going through a difficult time, I often encourage them to set aside thirty minutes every day to discuss the issue. Maybe an affair has occurred or trust has been violated in some other way. Emotions are raw. One spouse might want to constantly talk about the issue while the other spouse may want to never discuss it. (See: Two Steps to Solving 90% of Relationship Problems)

To help them avoid either extreme, I encourage them to have a set time. After the kids have gone to bed, when the demands of the day have died down, sit down and talk about how things are going. If an issue comes to mind before the meeting, write it down. If you think of something after the conversation, remember it for tomorrow. Don’t avoid the issue, but don’t let the issue dominate every conversation. No one can take an unending serious conversation. It would be too exhausting.

So it is with all difficult issues. Whether we are confronting a deep sin within society like racism, sexism, or physical abuse or we are dealing with a personal issue in a family or workplace, we must have courage and discernment.

Drill, rest, then drill again. It’s a good way for dentists and leaders.

Nov 192014

Three Mistakes Individuals Make After a Divorce

Divorce happens. As much as I wish it didn’t, it does.

Most divorces should never happen. Relationships end because one or both spouses are unwilling to do the difficult work which marriages require. It is a great tragedy. (See: A Map for Navigating Life’s Disappointments)

Yet some divorces have to happen. Even as a pastor, I sometimes recommend a husband or wife file for divorce. I never make my recommendation lightly, but some relationships cannot survive.

No matter the cause of the divorce, there are three common mistakes I see individuals make. While there are other mistakes as well, these three are the most common and should be avoided by those who endure the painful experience of divorce.

1. Downplaying the effects on the children. Even when a divorce is the right decision, it has lasting consequences on a child. Every child needs help after a divorce. Parents often assume because the child is talking about their pain or expressing it in negative outburst that they must be handling it well. Rarely is that the case. While children are resilient, divorce is still painful. They need assistance in walking through their pain and disappointments.

Parents can play a key role in this process, but they rarely can play the only role. Other mentors, teachers, and counselors are also important to the child. If I suffered through a divorce, there is no question both of my children would be in counseling no matter if I thought they needed it or not. They would be there until a professional told me they did not need to be there.

2. Failing to learn from broken relationships. They say divorce is always a two-way street, but that is not necessarily the case. While it takes two people to make a marriage, it only takes one to end it. One spouse can do everything in their power to make a marriage work and still end up divorced. Sadly, in those situations many individuals feel an extreme sense of guilt and shame even when they are the innocent party. Yet even if a spouse did everything they could to make the marriage work, there are still important lessons to be learned from a divorce. Failing to learn those lessons is a major mistake.

Attempting to understand why the relationship ended, knowing what your personal strengths and weaknesses are, and discovering what caused you to choose the other person, are all important lessons which can be learned from a divorce. The pain of a divorce can be one of the greatest motivators we will ever experience. Never wanting to go through the experience again should cause every individual to ask the tough questions and make important changes. Rarely can this process happen alone. (See: What to Do When Life Falls Apart)

The greatest predictor of the success of a second marriage is how much a person learned from the mistakes of the first marriage. Never waste a divorce by failing to learn the lessons which could only be taught through the depth of pain.

3. Rushing into a another relationship. Divorce hurts. The pain is so great it causes us to long for someone to comfort us and something to take our minds off the hurt. That other someone and the something is often another relationship. While it is extremely understandable why people quickly jump into a new relationship it is often foolish.

Divorce is like a death. Just as someone doesn’t just “get over” the death of a loved one, we don’t just “get over” a broken relationship. It takes time to process it, believe it, and understand it. The last moment in which you should be making important decisions, like who to be in relationship with, is when you are experiencing great stress, grief, and sorrow. Rarely will we choose wisely when we are under that much stress. (See: Divorce Is Contagious)

As hard as it is, a person should not get into another relationship soon after a divorce. Take a year. Grieve. Learn. Discover yourself. And then begin to test the waters of love.

Divorce is heartbreaking for communities, families, and most of all the individuals involved. It’s a pain which is so deep, I spend a good amount of time writing to assist marriages so they will not have to experience the brokenness. However, divorce does happen and when it does, an individual must make wise choices to keep from compounding their pain and the pain of others. There are many mistakes to avoid, but these are the top three. (See: How to Respond to a Culture of Broken Marriages)

Nov 182014

You Don’t Know Me

I pastor in my hometown. Before a new subdivision was built beside our church, I could look out my office window during the winter and see the elementary school and junior high I attended as a kid. Out the back field of our property is the house my best friend grew up in.

It’s an odd scenario to pastor in your hometown. My second-grade teacher attends the church. Many of the adults knew me when I was five or six or sixteen. Jesus said that a prophet is without honor in his hometown. I’m not a prophet, but there is a reason most pastors lead churches far from their homes. Who wants to remember their pastor playing Little League or struggling to get a date (hypothetical of course) or learning to drive? (See: The First Time I Cussed)

Yet here I am, and in this place there are many perks. I love being a pastor in my hometown and struggle to consider doing this job in any other location. But there is one major drawback—people assume they know me. And they do, in part. They probably know my basic personality. They know if I’m trustworthy or kind. They know many of my likes and dislikes. But they don’t really know me.

They know who I was, but they don’t necessarily know who I am. Like everyone, I’ve changed. I’ve grown up. I’ve gone places, had experiences, and learned things which have changed who I am. Marriage, parenting, and maturity have changed my mind on many aspects of life.

While some things haven’t changed, many have. To assume you know me is to make a bold assumption.

But that’s true with everybody.

One of the worst assumptions we make is when we assume to know someone. It’s fair to form opinions, have assumptions, and to think we know what a person may think, believe, or do, but it is not fair to think we know someone and never given them a chance to reveal their true selves. (See: It’s Not My Job to Read Your Mind)

We hate it when others do this do us. So why do we do this to others?

One of the great aspects of maturity is understanding that people change. Who I am today is not who I will be tomorrow. Hopefully I will improve. Today’s lessons, achievements, setbacks, and experiences will change me into a better person tomorrow. It’s not guaranteed, but it is mostly under my control.

The change means someone could know me today, but not truly know me tomorrow. Unless they do the work to continue to know me, I will change and they will never know it. They will always assume I’m the same person I’ve always been. (See: Five Ways Hunting Can Make You a Better Husband)

This assumption is dangerous. While it may be true, it likely isn’t. I know aspects about people around me, but I do not fully know them. For me to know them, I have to continue to give them the time and opportunity to reveal themselves to me.

Do you know your spouse? You knew her/him yesterday, but have you taken the time to see how yesterday has changed them?

Do you know your co-workers? Hopefully they are growing and advancing. The person you worked with last week is not necessarily the person beside you today.

Do you know your parents or children? Both are changing and while we might know them better than anyone else, do we truly know them?

If you want to kill your marriage, assume you know your spouse. Never listen. Never explore. Never allow them time to fully express themselves. Your assumptions will prevent you from truly knowing them. (See: The Most Important Marriage Advice I Could Give)

If you want to be a bad boss, assume you know your employees. Never give them a chance to prove themselves. Never provide chances for growth. Never forgive a past mistake.

If you want to be a bad parent, assume you know your kids. Always treat them as though they are a child. Always assume you know them better than anyone. Never ask what they think, believe, or desire. (See: What I Prayed the Night Ella Was Born)

A funny thing about living in my hometown is that I regularly run into old friends. Some still live in the same neighborhood, some have moved a thousand miles away. Whenever I see them, it’s tempting to think, “I know them,” but I’m quickly reminded, they have no idea how I’ve changed over the past year, five years, or decade. They don’t know me, and I don’t know them.

I’ve known a lot of people in my life, but I don’t really know very many today. Thankfully, that is what makes today fun—every person I meet today will be a new person because they have changed since yesterday. If I give them the chance, we can reveal ourselves to one another.

You might have known me in the past, but I’m not fully who I once was. Time has changed me and hopefully for the better. And I can only assume it has done the same to you.

Nov 172014

Strong Character Is Built Through Significant Challenge

Shrek and Donkey were transformed in their journey together for the princess.

Rocky grew from his pursuit of a title.

Great teams find themselves in the pursuit of a championship.

Mission and character go hand-in-hand. In literature and life, a person finds what they are made of on a great quest and the quest helps make them become greater than what they were. (See: You Better Make Up Your Mind)

Show me someone with great character and I’ll show you someone who feels a sense of purpose in their lives. The purpose is derived from their character, but their character is also dependent on the purpose.

Character is created for mission and mission creates character. The relationship is reciprocal.

Good character doesn’t exist for its own benefit. While a leader fixates on their own character and the character displayed by those they lead, good character is not the ultimate goal. The hope is that the character will aid a greater mission. (See: What Should a Leader Care About)

Leaders see character as a prerequisite to accomplishment. We continue to work on ourselves and our teams because we know bad character can destroy us and good character can aid us in accomplishing the task at hand.

Character is created for mission.

There is always a greater purpose beyond ourselves. We focus on ourselves so we may then forget about ourselves in the pursuit of a greater good.

If a public speaker doesn’t recognize his nervousness before an engagement and find a way to channel that nervous energy in a good way, he will never be able to focus on his audience or the speech he is giving. He must look at himself before the mission so that he doesn’t spend his whole time during the mission compensating for his weakness.

As it is for a public speaker, so it is with any leader. We work on our character as a part of preparing for, and working on, a greater mission. This is also the reason we focus on the character of the individuals and organizations we lead. (See: You Control What Matters Most)

A coach is quick to point out any laziness he sees in a player regarding preparation. The laziness is a character flaw; it’s a failure to put in the heart and work necessary to accomplish a task. A good coach almost always shows the player how laziness will hinder both the player and the team in the pursuit of victory. Lazy practice habits lead to lazy in-game habits which can lead to a loss. Character development is always linked to the pursuit of a mission.

We need good character because of the great tasks before us. Unless your mission is significant enough, your team may never realize the importance of integrity, honesty, courage, etc. When apathy about character development is present, it reveals a failure to properly communicate the importance of the mission.

Character is also created by mission.

The pursuit after something important provides the motivation for change. If someone believes passionately enough about a goal, they are willing to confront anything which might hinder their mission. Bad character hinders every mission. When a teammate can’t be trusted or a leader lacks integrity or someone looks out for self above others, a group’s performance will suffer. Good character creates good teams; bad character creates bad teams. (See: Communication Reveals Character)

Mission not only provides the motivation to change, it also reveals what needs to be changed. Worthy pursuits exhaust us. They demand everything we have. They wring every ounce of energy from us. In this process, every weakness is revealed. We might easily deceive ourselves or others in times of ease. We can appear stronger than we actually are. We can think we have it all together. Yet the testing which comes from fighting for an important mission strips away all delusion. We will quickly realize our need for growth. Weak spots will appear. Character flaws will be revealed. Only when we are pursuing after a worthy mission will we truly expend ourselves to such an extent that our flaws will be fully revealed.

Hasn’t the Army known this concept for years? Isn’t this the concept of basic training? Military leaders desire to break enlisted men and women in order to build them back up properly. They stress the mind and body to reveal what is there. After weaknesses reveal themselves, they can be confronted and improved.

It’s in the midst of a mission that character is most often revealed and changed. (See: What Every Leader Should Look For)

Too many teams, organizations, and individuals fail to reach their goals because they downplay the importance of character. By ignoring the development of their character, they set themselves up for defeat. You might be able to ignore character in order to gain short-term wins, but eventually bad character will reveal itself and will become self-defeating.

Yet when mission and character are wedded together, victory is normally found on both fronts. With a strong sense of mission, people are quick to identify character flaws and make improvements. With a strong sense of character, team members focus less on themselves and more on helping others in the accomplishment of a great task.

Failing to have purpose in your life is a failure of character. Good character was not created for the individual. It is a gift which is to be leveraged for the well-being of others.

 

Nov 142014

Ten Reasons Life is Better in Your Late 30s

When I was in my mid-20s I was with a group of people of various ages. The topic came up, what is the best time of life?

I knew better than the traditional thought of high school and college. Both seasons of life are fun, but they aren’t close to being the best time of life. I expected a person’s 20s to be the best. In your 20s you live on your own, are in great shape, and start living your own live.

But the consensus of the group was the 30s, and particularly the late 30s.

I didn’t understand it then, but I do now. It’s hard for me to imagine life being better than it is now.

Here are 10 reasons life is better in your late 30s:

1. You are starting to know and accept yourself. Life is a continual process of discovery, but in your 30s you begin to get an understanding of who you are—strengths, weaknesses, habits, etc. While the question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” might never fully go away, by your 30s you start to have some idea. Knowing and accepting yourself allows for an appreciation of life and others.

2. You realize no one is cool. From the moment we enter school until well into our 20s, we are often chasing cool. We want to be in the cool crowd, with the cool things, and be seen as a cool person. Thankfully the myth of cool eventually fades. It takes a long time for us to understand but no one is truly cool. We all struggle. We are all imperfect. Everyone has weaknesses. (See: The Only Time I Was Ever Stoned)

3. Your marriage is built on love and trust more than lust. When young couples get married, they think they love each other. After being married for a decade, a couple knows they love one another. Experiencing the ups and downs of marriage, learning to communicate and forgive, allows a couple to trust each other. True love is built on trust. While the physical relationship remains important, it becomes an expression of love and not its centerpiece.

4. You’ve experienced enough life to gain some perspective. My six year-old regularly says, “Dad, this is the worst day of my life.” He might think it’s true, but I know better. It takes some years to put our days into perspective. I know just because today is bad doesn’t mean tomorrow will be. I also know that what I often call a bad day isn’t that bad at all. (See: Trust Me It Matters, Read This Before You Die)

5. Your kids are old enough to sleep and young enough to believe. The newborn years are hard on parents. Not only are you learning to parent, but you are sleeping very little while doing so. Thankfully, those years give way to late preschool and early elementary days. In this season, your children begin to become somewhat self-sufficient, but are still highly dependent. Parents are heroes in these days. Few things are as fun as watching a child who is full of wonder.

6. You are starting to earn real money. They say your 30s should be the decade you learn to make money so your 40s and 50s can be productive. If someone has made wise choices, their 30s can be very fruitful. The days of living paycheck to paycheck should be behind you and there should be enough money left over to invest in the future.

7. You’re young enough to do nearly every physical activity, but wise enough to refrain from stupid activities. Most 3-year-olds are still able to run, jump, and do nearly any activity they have ever done, yet the next day they feel the effects of their activity. This ability, mixed with feeling the effects, keeps them from doing things which the average teenager or 20-something may not think twice about. Being able to do something, but wise enough not to attempt it, is a wonderful place to be in life.

8. You return to things that are truly important. If faith was an important part of your childhood, it’s not unusual for your late teens and 20s to be spent without giving it much concern. However, there is something about growing kids, the aging of parents, and the tragedies of friends which can remind us we want faith to be an active presence in our lives. This element can bring a deeper meaning and value to life.

9. You still have time to change. Unless your dream is to be a professional athlete, your 30s are a time in which nearly every dream can still come true. It’s not too late to go back to school, change careers, pick up a new hobby, etc. You’ve lived long enough to know what you want to do, but not too long for it to be too late. (See: Three Loves to Change Your Life)

10. You’ve had enough bad experiences to appreciate the good ones. Life is best lived in gratitude. By your 30s you should have experienced enough heartbreak, disappointments, and unfulfilled dreams to truly appreciate the areas in life which you have been blessed.

It’s not true for everyone. And if your 30s aren’t good, don’t assume the rest of life will be bad. However, your 30s are a tremendous opportunity for growth, meaning and appreciation.

Sadly, too many people speed through their 30s either trying to still live like a 20-year-old or assuming all of life will forever be this way. It won’t.

Hopefully life continues to get better, but so far, there has not been a better time in life than this.

Nov 132014

Never Ask “How Can I Make My Child Have Faith?”

One of the most common questions I receive is “How can I get my child to have faith?” While the intention of this question is wonderful, the question itself is not the right focus. A parent cannot make a child believe. Instead of focusing on making them believe, we need to focus on creating a climate in which they might choose to believe.

In this final episode of The 7 Series: Parenting, Laura Keep and I discuss the issue of faith when it comes to parenting.

Parenting is an expression of my faith and a great instructor in faith.

Show Notes:

Faith answers the “who” of parenting. Who do we want to be as parents? Who do we want our children to be? We want to be, and we want them to be, a person of faith.

Parenting is ultimately an expression of faith. (See: Three Ways Parents Discourage Their Children)

Each word–authority, love, choices, consequences, environment, and conversation–point to faith and flow from our faith.

The right question: “How do we as parents share our faith with our kids?”

The wrong question: “How can we make our children believe?”

We can’t make our kids believe. Their belief is between them and God.

I can create a climate which allows them to choose to believe.

If we aren’t careful, in our attempt to force our children to believe, we will exchange faith for religion.

Before I am a parent, I am foremost a child of God. I must believe before I can share faith with my kids.

Personal spiritual growth should be a primary focus of a parent. (See: One Thing We Must Teach Our Children)

Fathers are tempted to spend more time instructing our kids in sports rather than faith because of our insecurity regarding faith. We must avoid this temptation. If we ignore faith but focus on sports, we will communicate to our kids that sports are more important than faith.

Parents should be growing with their kids in faith. There is no need to hide our ignorance. We can reveal it and then seek to grow together.

My focus should never be on a one-time experience of faith for my children. My focus is on a lifetime of belief. This perspective gives my child room to doubt, question, and to grapple with the issues of faith.

Questions of doubt regarding faith are tremendous opportunities to teach our children. Never fear questions or doubt.

A parent’s role is to always be bringing issues of faith to the surface in the midst of family discussions.

Never make the centerpiece of your child’s life a picture of faith (baptism, confirmation, etc).

The scariest verse in all the Bible is “children obey your parents.” This command should get the attention of parents.

Most problems in my life are because I obey me over God; it’s frightening to think God actually commands little people to obey me. The awareness that God commands them to obey me should greatly influence the choices I make.

My temptation as a father is to overplay my authority, downplay God’s command to act in love, and to cause my children to lose Godly hope. The Bible warns fathers against this. (See: A Father’s Primary Role)

One of the great roles of a parent is to continually remind them of our hope. No matter what we have done or the consequences of choices, a Christian has hope because of what God has done for us.

If we are overly focused on a one-time experience, we will likely rush our children into decisions they aren’t truly making. If we are focused on a lifetime of faith, we will be far more patient.

If parents do not intentionally try to influence our children toward faith, our children might believe but they will do so in spite of us not because of us.

Parents too often bring up issues of faith only when a child has done wrong. This is why many people have the belief about God that he is an angry God who does not like us. We must talk about God at all times, especially in good times. Whenever we speak of God in the context of our children making mistakes, it should be about his grace more than his judgment.

 

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