Jan 282015

Marriage Is Not the Flip of a Coin

It was in a story yesterday morning: “Marriage is just the flip of a coin.” Because of this “fact” the writer was making the case that being a swinger is an acceptable lifestyle and one which should not only be accepted, but actually encouraged.

It was in a phone call yesterday afternoon. The magic is gone from the marriage. He thinks he made a mistake. He doesn’t “feel it” anymore and thinks he never can. “I guess I flipped the coin and lost.”

It was in a television show last night. I’m sure the writer thought he was dictating absolute truth. Look around. Failure in marriage is everywhere so anyone who has a good marriage just got lucky.

There is no doubt that a good marriage feels like luck. Jenny and I regularly discuss how lucky we feel. I see friends, talk with readers, and sit with those whose marriages are failing and oftentimes it feels as though some people are just unlucky. (See: Three People You Should Marry)

The girl does everything right, but a few years into marriage the boy cheats and the relationship ends.

A guy lives radically differently from his friends, finds a great mate, but she refuses to grow up and the marriage dies.

The young couple is the epitome of how a young couple should be, but within a decade they are not together.

A good marriage can feel like luck, because there are many people who have experienced the sting of divorce who have not done any more wrong than any of the rest of us. They weren’t perfect, but their mistakes should not have ended in a divorce, yet their marriages dissolved and they are feeling the weight of trying to put their lives back together.

Individuals can have bad fortune. They can be perfectly willing to do whatever is necessary to make a marriage work, but their spouse is not willing. Where one is unwilling, both suffer. To them, it feels like a flip of the coin.

Yet marriage is never a coin toss.

 Unless two people are wiling to submit their individual wills to that which is best for the couple, a marriage will likely fail.  While marriage might seem like a great mystery which is highly unpredictable, it is actually fairly simple to predict if a marriage will last or not.

While I may not be able to accurately predict whether an individual will get divorced, I can confidently say that any couple with both individuals doing everything in their power to make a marriage work, will in fact make a marriage work. (See: How I Predict Divorce Based on the Wedding Cake)

Marriages most often fail because individuals choose to stop trying.

Even if the divorce rate was 50% (remember that it is not), marriage still would not be a flip of the coin. There is not an unidentified mystery of whether a marriage will make it or not. There is the unanswered question of whether each of individual will do the work necessary to find success. Some will and some won’t. Unfortunately, many who would do the work are married to people who won’t, and so they will end up divorced even though it’s the last thing they wanted.

But they didn’t lose a coin toss. They lost a flip of their partner’s will.

If you are considering marriage but you are afraid of the risk, recognize that successful marriages are everywhere. It’s a myth that every marriage is failing; many marriages are thriving. Surround yourself with mentors who love marriage and learn from them.

If you are married and things are going well, appreciate the good times but do not become apathetic assuming it will always be this way. Keep growing, learning, and loving one another.

If you are married and things aren’t going well, you might be tempted to wonder, “Am I losing a flip of the coin?” Tell yourself the truth—there is no coin being tossed. Do the work necessary to make the marriage succeed.

Remember: 

Good news: marriage not a flip of the coin. Your relational success is not based on luck, but instead is a direct reflection of the actions the two of you take as a couple.

Bad news: marriage not a flip of the coin. You can’t luck into a successful marriage; you must work at it.

Jan 262015

Two Deceptions Regarding Time

A day will come in which my name will not be remembered. Every word spoken and written, every life influenced, and legacy left will be erased. My guess is it will happen far sooner than I can imagine. It will only take a few generations before my name is no more.

Yet even before that day, my life’s work will quickly diminish. (See: You Chose This)

There have been few people I loved in my life like my grandparents. They have only been gone for a few years, yet I don’t think of them every day. I remember them fondly and at times miss them greatly, but on a day-to-day basis their absence does not leave a void. Even with all they did through their nine decades, someone who loved them most only remembers them a few times a week.

As the old song says, “Time marches on.”

With or without us, the clock continues to tick and the calendar continues to turn.

If we aren’t careful, we can realize this truth about life and come to the wrong conclusion that because life is so fleeting, it doesn’t matter what we do. Because everything we accomplish will one day be erased, why do anything?

It’s a false conclusion, but one which many people draw. (See: Stop Squandering Your Time)

This is the challenge with time. We all live within its context, but if we aren’t very careful we can be tempted by two misconceptions regarding its true nature. Either misconception leads to dangerous consequences.

Two Misconceptions:

1. Some wrongly believe we have all the time in the world. This is often the error of youth. Having not lived long enough to understand how quickly time passes, we can underestimate its value. When we believe a resource is unlimited, we do not value an individual unit of that resource. Believing time is without end, we waste the minutes, hours, and days given to us.

2. Some wrongly believe we do not have enough time for it to matter. This is often the error of those who are older. Having experienced how quickly time can pass, we can falsely conclude that we do not have enough time to accomplish anything of significance. Even if we do accomplish great things, we see how quickly they are forgotten or erased, and we conclude the effort is not worth it.

Both of these misconceptions miss the truth.

The truth about time is that most of us have enough time to do things which matter, but have no time to waste.

We have enough time to accomplish things. We can love, build, create, innovate, dream, design, accomplish, and achieve. Great things can happen. And rarely is it too late to do something. Second and third careers are possible. New tricks can be learned even by old dogs. Amazing things can be accomplished in one lifetime.

Yet no one has any time to waste. Life is too fleeting. Time is too precious. At any moment, the gift of life could be taken from us. Because of the brevity of time, we cannot waste a single moment. (See: A Secret About Today Which Could Change Everything)

I often have the honor of standing at the bedside of those who are dying. One of the common themes of those conversations is how quickly life passes. Whether the person is suffering from cancer in their late 20s or experiencing the failure of multiple organs in their 90s, they look at time in similar ways. It passes quickly.

Yet I’ve never had a single person on their deathbed reflect on the quick passing of time and think that someone should throw their hands up in apathy and attempt nothing great. Instead, every person looks at the brevity of life and wishes they would have wasted less time and dared to attempt greater things.

We have enough time to do great things, but we don’t have a second to waste.

Jan 232015

What If We Valued Teachers More?

I’m the dad who prefers to walk my children into school. I know the days are quickly passing in which they allow me to do so, so for now, I park the car, grab their hands, and escort them to class.

It only takes a few minutes, but they are informative minutes. I learn a lot about my kids in those final seconds before they start their days. I see how they interact with the principal, teachers, and other students. I can learn what is causing them stress or what excites them. I see other students and am reminded of the needs which many children have—the need for safety, nutrition, love, etc.

But more than anything, it’s seeing the teachers which I need the most. I see them preparing to do one of the most important activities which will be done in our community for that day. Few things approach the importance of teaching the next generation. So much of the hope of our city, country, and world fall on those little shoulders who might one day cure cancer, create alternative forms of energy, or lead radical change. Those teaching our children are helping to determine our future. (See: What Every Parent Should Know as Kids Go Back to School)

I see them on a daily basis and I can see the stress in their eyes:

  • they experience the same stress of life we all face—illness, struggling marriages, aging parents, raising kids, etc.
  • educational standards are increasing even while the home lives of students is decaying
  • outside influences believe more should be taught but less time is given for instruction
  • success or failure is often determined by the results of a test, not the outcome of an individual child
  • the use of technology is expected without a fair understanding of the time needed to understand how to use new tools
  • public scrutiny is at an all-time high even when community involvement in local education is at an all-time low

Teachers are doing one of the most important jobs in our community without the adequate support and compensation expected in other professions.

But what if it was different?

What if our society valued teachers to such an extent that we expected the very brightest among us to be teachers? (See: Five Principles for My Daughter’s Teacher)

What if teachers saw themselves, not in arrogance but in professional pride, as the elite of the professions?

What if teaching was seen as both a privilege and a responsibility?

How would these changes influence the perception teachers have of themselves and others have of them?

Imagine the change:

Teachers would see themselves in a better light. When you see yourself as a top-in-your-field performer, it influences every area of your life. Success often breeds success.

Teachers would see each other in a better light. Imagine working every day alongside a group of people who are world-class in their ability and are willfully sacrificing for the sake of their country and the future. If teachers saw one another for who they are, it would greatly increase teamwork, work-place morale, and comradery.

Parents would see teachers in a better light. While many respect the work of teachers, many others do not understand the difficulty of their jobs. Many parents demean the work of teachers and fail to partner with them in the education of children. If parents understood the value of a teacher, they would be much more likely to work with them than against them. (See: Understand the Power of Your Presence)

But What About the Money?

One the biggest issues of teachers and society alike is how can we compensate those in the field of education at a level which reveals the importance of their job. Of course we can’t. Money is tight and will continue to get tighter. A first-grade teacher will never have a salary comparable to a professional athlete.

Yet the transformation of education does not require a change in teacher’s pay.

What if society so valued the teaching profession that we expected the best among us to choose that field even while knowing it will never be a good avenue toward riches or fame? What if we believed the intrinsic value of teaching outweighed monetary compensation?

Isn’t this what we do with the military? Don’t we honor and recognize military service for the valuable contribution it is even though we know most military personnel are under paid? Don’t we expect some of the best among us to forego their personal dreams and aspirations in order to do what is best for society?

If we do this with others, shouldn’t we do this with educators? (See: Three Loves to Change Your Life)

This viewpoint doesn’t excuse society’s responsibilities to better compensate teachers. I’m not saying we should tell educators to get over the fact that their pay is low.

But I do wonder what would happen if we so valued education that we expected the best among us to enter the field and they entered education knowing the value of what they do outweighed anything they could ever be paid.

I am not an expert on the educational system. I do not know what a teacher faces on a daily basis. However, I can almost guarantee that I know the difference between a teacher who has a good day and one that has a bad day:

For those that see it as a privilege to get the opportunity to interact and influence young minds, their day will feel valuable.

For those that focus on the burden and expectation placed upon them by administration, politicians, and parents, their day will feel pointless.

Teachers deserve respect. They deserve from their communities, colleagues, and themselves. If we valued them to the level of the service they provide, many things in society would change.

What are some meaningful ways we can show how much we value teachers?

Jan 212015

Leave Your Kids Behind (Guest Post)

Jenny and I are on vacation this week so I’m happy to have Tim Stevens guest posting. Tim has just released a new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

I have to ask a question. Mom, Do your kids know that your husband is the most important person in your life? Listen, Dad, do your kids see you prioritizing your wife regularly and deliberately above them?

Your kids will not feel this if you do not intentionally make the effort to reinforce it in your regular family life.

I believe one of the best ways to do this is to take a vacation together, every year, without the kids. We have figured out a way to do this every year for twenty-four years straight. And no, it’s not easy. There are things like nursing and pregnancies you have to work around. (Trust me, I know. Faith was pregnant or nursing for six and a half years of our married life!) There are also real difficulties like money and childcare. (See: One Thing We Must Teach Our Kids)

But you must do it. Here are three reasons I believe your marriage can’t thrive without an annual kidless vacation:

Life is crazy! Regardless of how disciplined you are with daily or weekly time together with your wife, life gets busy and stressed, and you need some extended time to reconnect with your spouse to get grounded again in each other’s love.

Your kids won’t always be around. If you are not spending time together to develop your marriage relationship, one day, when the kids are gone, you will find you have nothing in common.

Your kids need to see you making this relationship a priority. If they don’t see a healthy marriage at home, where will they see it?

I hear all kinds of excuses for not planning a no-kids-allowed vacation:

DON’T BLAME IT ON MONEY. There are cheap ways to vacation. In our first few years of marriage (when our income put us right at the official poverty level), we committed to time away and left it in God’s hands. More than once, someone came along and said, “Hey, we have a cabin you can use if you want,” and we had a great vacation for the cost of getting there. Pray for provision, and keep your eye out for less expensive alternatives like camping or staying with friends.FairnessIsOverrated[1]

DON’T BLAME IT ON TIME. You’ll never have enough time for it to make sense. Decide what is important to you (answer: your marriage!), and get it on the schedule.

DON’T BLAME IT ON THE KIDS. The greatest way to show your kids how valuable they are to you is to take time for each other. Work with another couple who is also committed to time away, and watch each other’s kids. Ask grandparents to step in and help, and don’t worry about how spoiled they will get in your absence. It only takes a few days to get everything back in line and on schedule. (See: Stay Out of My Wife’s Bed)

DON’T BLAME IT ON YOUR JOB. Are you still waiting until the work slows down? Or until you finish the big project? Or until you get the promotion and have more vacation days available? Wait long enough, and you might have a great job and no marriage. If you sincerely can’t get time off work, then plan a couple extended weekends.

What does all this have to do with leadership? Everything! A leader who is successful at work but a failure at home is not a successful leader. The first test of leadership is your ability to love, lead, and care for those who are closest to you.

Here is the truth. You will likely have many years of marriage after your kids have all left home. If you don’t work on your marriage during the parenting years, you might not have a relationship left as empty nesters. Be intentional.

 

StevensTimTim Stevens is a team leader with the Vanderbloemen Search Group, an executive search firm that helps churches and ministries find great leaders. Previously he was the executive pastor at Granger Community Church in Granger, Indiana. During his twenty years there, he helped grow the church to more than 5,000 gathering weekly in three locations and saw a worldwide impact. Learn more about his new book, Fairness Is Overrated: And 51 Other Leadership Principles to Revolutionize Your Workplace.

Jan 192015

Martin Luther King, Jr: Why Religion Deserves a Seat at the Table

Christopher Reeves, best known for his portrayal of Superman, once told the students at Yale, “When matters of public policy are being debated, no religion should have a seat at the table—that is what is provided for in the Constitution.”

It’s a common belief in today’s society. Many assume the Constitution separates the discussion of practical policy with the theories of religion. (See: Children, Disability, and Abortion)

Last year I was invited to speak to an MBA class at a public university. Before I entered the room, a debate took place among the students because several students did not believe a pastor should be allowed to speak in a public university. Despite the fact that I have the education, have taught MBA level classes, and lead a non-profit organization with multiple locations, a multi-million dollar budget, and significant staff, some students believed my religious practice prohibited me from rightfully lecturing in an educational setting.

Hopefully it is not necessary for me to point out that both Reeves and the MBA students are promoting the exact opposite of what the Constitution proclaims. The First Amendment very clearly protects my rights (and yours) regarding religious practice. Someone cannot keep us from holding an office, teaching a class, or commenting on public policy because of our religious beliefs. While I would not have a right to go into a public university’s MBA program, ignore the subject matter, and then force my religious beliefs onto the class, I do have every right to use my experience to teach the subject matter of the day. (See: Why We Can’t Say Racism Is a Thing of the Past)

Yet not only do I have a right to the table of public policy, America needs religious thought at the table. Proof is found in the celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

Never forget, it was the preacher who led the charge for radical change in the discussion of race in America. When someone says the church needs to be quiet regarding politics, preachers need to keep their noses out of the public square, and the religious thought has no seat at the table, they are denying the long history of religious people and religious thought in making American what it is. They are denying Martin Luther King, Jr.

Advocates for faith should not have the only voice at the table discussing public policy. We should not fall for the temptation of believing we are morally superior to those who do not believe. As a matter of fact, my religion would prevent me from having that opinion. Christianity doesn’t proclaim moral superiority, but instead reminds every person of their moral poverty.

However, in the same way that believers shouldn’t be the only voice, they also shouldn’t be excluded from the debate. Everyone has a belief system. Each person sees the world through some worldview which influences every aspect of their lives. It is foolish to think that believers in religious thought are biased in their thinking while the atheist, agnostic, or secularist has pure thinking.

In the same way the religious believer is foolish to assume the unbeliever can’t be moral, the unbeliever is foolish in assuming only the believer is biased.

Everyone is biased. Everyone has a worldview. Everyone is bringing some kind of faith to the table. To exclude one from a discussion because of religious belief is un-American and unwise. (See: What a White Man Knows About Racism)

We are free to ignore any opinion we wish, but we are never free to silence another. And whenever we rule out a whole class of people without ever really considering their opinion, we do so to the detriment of society.

Celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life should cause us to reflect on many things.

We should renew our pursuit of racial equality through action and conversation.

We should intentionally build relationships with those who are different from us and learn from them.

We should understand our faith demands action within our communities.

But we should also remember the value of having a person of religious thought involved in discussions of public policy. A religious voice shouldn’t be the only voice in a pluralistic society, but it should be an important voice.

Jan 162015

Accept the Temporary Nature of Friendships

I’m sorry to break the news to you, but friends come and go. I wish it wasn’t the case. I know it can be painful, but it is the nature of life. Siblings last for a lifetime. Spouses come with vows expecting long relationships. And a few friends endure from first grade to the nursing home.

But most friendships are not long-lasting. They come and they go and there is little we can, or should, do about it.

It’s often said half of all your friendships will be different in seven years. This isn’t a statistic like childhood obesity rates where the stat should scare us into action. This is a statistic of reality which should cause us to give grace to ourselves and to others as some friendships slowly drift apart.

Friendship is founded on shared experience. (See: Drama Addicts–why your best friend is always stressed)

Chances are, most people can remember their friend from first grade. Within a day or two of enduring the new experience of school desks, lunchroom policies, and recess, we naturally gravitate toward people who are like us and experiencing the same things as us. Through the shared experience, friendships are formed.

Yet as those experiences change, so do our relationships. The other day I saw where one of my earliest friends became a father. As I looked at the pictures on social media, I felt a warm sense of gratitude for him and his family. Yet I didn’t write a note. I didn’t make a phone call. I watched online, felt good for him, and did nothing. I don’t remember the last time we spoke. I doubt it has been since high school and may not have been since elementary school. We were close friends for a few years, but as we grew and were in different classes and then different schools, the friendship began to fade. It’s neither his fault nor mine. It’s life.

While some friendships endure the changes and become life-long relationships, most do not. And that is more than acceptable. There is no moral obligation to stay in close contact with every person we become friends with. It would be impossible to do so. While we should always love one another and do the best for and towards others, we should not feel guilt because a best friend becomes just another friend or just another friend becomes someone we used to know. It’s simply the way things happen. (See: You Don’t Know Me)

However, some people who do not understand the ebb and flow of relationships, wrongly conclude that when friendships fade, someone has done wrong. They believe a fading friendship is the sign of selfishness, or a lack of caring, or a rejection of thoughtfulness. While it could be any of those things, far more often it is simply a change in life setting.

An inseparable group of friends are separable when one person in the group gets a boyfriend.

Couples who vacation together every summer probably stop when one of them has a child.

Friendships born in the stands tend to last for as long as the kids keep playing the sport.

No one consciously chooses to end the friendship. And the friendship doesn’t actually end, but it does change. Circumstances which brought us close together then separate us and most of the time the separation changes the closeness of the friendship. (See: Discernment–A Forgotten Sign of Adulthood)

We must embrace this reality. It’s difficult. Especially whenever we feel very close to another person, it is painful to watch a friendship drift away. Yet there is no need to guilt another person or question our own loyalty when life causes us to drift way.

Some relationships must be maintained. We promise to keep our spouses close throughout the changes of life. We hope to keep a healthy relationship with parents, children, and siblings as life changes. With all of these demands, we must give ourselves and others permission to allow some friendships to come and go.

Recognizing this will cause us to have a deeper gratitude for lifelong friendships. It will allow us to look back on past friendships with a sincere fondness. And it will give us a greater appreciation for those who are in our lives today, realizing that they may not be there tomorrow. (See: Love Your Friends, Don’t Listen to Them)

Most friendships are temporary. Enjoy the time, but accept that the relationship will likely change.

 

Jan 142015

Three People You Should Marry

I know I’m one person. I have one mind, one heart, one soul, and one body. But if you were to interview a good cross-section of the people I interact with on a regular basis, you would likely get a variety of descriptions.

Some, having watched me on stage, would describe me as extremely extroverted, even while those who know me best would tell you I am an introvert. Some would say I’m cold and nearly emotionless while others would say I’m a sap who has a difficult time not caving to people’s demands. Some would say I’m a strong leader with clear vision while others would say I might be many things, but leader is not one of them.

Ask a hundred people to describe me and you would likely get four or five major descriptions with a multitude of minor variances.

I’m one person, but I’m many people—husband, father, son, brother, pastor, writer, friend, opponent, citizen, etc.

Whenever we marry someone, we are marrying one person, but they are also many people. They have a variety of roles to fill and we only see them in a select number of those roles.

Yet even within the dynamics of marriage, a person is not one person. They are three. While one might be stronger in one area than the other, all three are vital to creating a healthy marriage and being a good partner.

When choosing a partner (or considering what kind of spouse you want to be), a person should marry these three people:

Friend. At the foundation of any good marriage is deep friendship. By no means should a spouse be your only friend, but they should be your best friend. Over the course of a marriage, spouses will spend a tremendous amount of time together and should enjoy being in the presence of one another. Deep levels of trust, admiration, and respect should define every marriage.

Many marriages struggle because they begin as a friendship, but they do not continue to develop the friendship through the marriage. They assume it will happen naturally when no friendship naturally occurs. It takes intention and effort. Others make a grand mistake when they do not see friendship as an important aspect of whom to marry. Saying you wouldn’t want to ruin the friendship is ignorance of the true nature of marriage. Marry a friend and then work your whole life to build the friendship.

Partner. Marriage is a business decision. Many people live in the denial of this reality but it is true. Those that doubt the business side of marriage get a rude awakening if the marriage fails and they end up in divorce court. In ages past, marriage was often seen as nothing more than a business decision. Kings expanded their territory, made alliances, and played political games through marriage. (See: Marry a Partner, Not a Child)

Marriage should never be only a business decision, but business must be seen as a component. While some couples work closely together and others completely separate work from home life, no one should foolishly ignore that every spouse is a business partner—they influence your credit score, determine how you spend money, and own half of everything you own. One should never marry for business, but one should always keep business in mind. A good spouse is also a good business partner. They may not know the details of the business, but they know you well enough to point out blind spots and encourage strengths. (See: This Is Who You Want to Marry)

Lover. The major difference between friendship and marriage is the element of sexuality. While every marriage should include friendship, only one friendship should include sexual intimacy. That is marriage.

This aspect of marriage should neither be elevated as the most important part of marriage nor should it be diminished into a secondary role within the marital relationship. Sex is not the only thing, but it is an important thing for the marital covenant. While most relationships start strong in the area of sexuality—it’s often a driving factor for marriage—many couples falsely assume this aspect of marriage should develop naturally with little effort. It’s a dangerous assumption. A strong sexual connection takes time, knowledge, wisdom, understanding, and a lot of trial and error. (See: What Your Husband Wants From You in Bed)

These three roles play an equal part in a healthy marriage. When one area suffers, the whole marriage suffers.

Forward this to your spouse and thank them for whatever is their strongest area. Ask them what is the area they would most like you to improve.

Jan 112015

Stop Whining About the Church

For the past few weeks, I’ve seen this article–Dear Church, Here’s Why People Are Really Leaving You–shared and posted by many friends. While I normally do not respond to other articles, the unquestioned support of this article gave me pause.

I have little problem with the article if the author is diagnosing a few prominent issues which plague some churches. However, it seems as though he implies these problems are present in every church. It’s as though every church is failing and any person desiring to truly follow Christ in this culture has nowhere to turn. This premise simply doesn’t match my experience. (See: The Greatest Perk of the Pastorate)

The author lists five problems:

  1. Your Sunday morning productions have worn thin.
  2. You speak in a foreign tongue.
  3. Your vision can’t see past your building.
  4. You choose lousy battles.
  5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

Yet before discussing each of these points, the article begins with a premise no one has questioned–that people are leaving the church. While it is true church attendance declined through the 80s and 90s, it is not so evident that the decline has continued. Some studies say it has plateaued while others show growth.

There is a common assumption that society is in decline which causes many to assume the church is in decline as well. They read a headline confirming their assumption and few people stop to consider if it is true. While many churches and denominations are declining, many others are not. Many vibrant churches are growing and planting new congregations.

Maybe some people are leaving the church, but a good number of people are finding life inside the church.

The Problems

The author says the church has five problems. Let’s consider each.

1. Your Sunday morning productions are wearing thin.

While some might, I know very few who attempt to put on a Sunday morning production. Instead, believers attempt to do everything in their power to engage God in worship by exercising their giftedness in worship of God. For some this might include many elements of the arts but it is not a production the way the author uses the term in a negative way. (See: Try Not to Curse During the Baby Dedication)

On occasion, people will criticize our church for feeling like a concert. Whenever I know the person well enough I will respond, “It is a concert. A concert for God. Did you think it was for you?”

Some churches go to great lengths on a Sunday morning, but what the author calls a “production” might very well be someone offering their very best in worship. However, if you enter into a service thinking it is about you, then those services are likely to wear thin over time.

2. You speak in a foreign tongue.

I think this is the best point the article makes. The church does speak in a foreign tongue and we need to be very careful about doing so. However, everyone speaks in a foreign tongue. We can’t help it. We can be aware of it. We can do our best to change it. But we can’t be perfect. (See: Old Gas Stations, Dry Squeegees, and the Grace of God)

We form language from our experience and it is nearly impossible to see as that special language fails to communicate to others. It’s true for mechanics, sales people, engineers, and people of faith. Every profession or community forms a unique language. We need to do our best to speak in plain language, but we shouldn’t blame the church for what happens in every area of life.

3. Your vision can’t see past your building.

This is true in many churches, but not in every church. Many of the most vibrant churches don’t even have buildings. Others own buildings, but they are not the centerpiece of ministry or vision.

The multi-site movement gives a church the opportunity to worship in various communities and move past a single building-centric vision. I do not have a single friend in the pastorate who I believe is focused too much on their building. Each friend sees the building as a tool for ministry. Their vision is much broader than a building.

4. You choose lousy battles.

The author illustrates his point with fast food restaurants, hobby stores, and reality tv show debates. While each of these three have received major headlines over the past year, none of the churches I know of were involved. Political parties might have tried to leverage the issues and Christian thinkers rightly raised questions about religious freedom. However, the churches I’m around were too busy to boycot anyone or worry about a tv show.

The churches were busy feeding the hungry, ministering to the homeless, trying to find homes for the orphans, and buying toys for children whose parents were in prison. They were walking alongside the cancer patient by bringing her family meals and helping those struggling with grief by mowing a family’s lawn. (See: A Christian Response to an Atheist Billboard)

5. Your love doesn’t look like love.

I’m sure this is true in some places. And I have little doubt that the church I’m a part of struggles to properly love. However, on many occasions we do get it right. “Come as you are” isn’t just a slogan at the churches I know. It’s real. It’s why the church is often the friendliest place for the person struggling with mental illness. It’s is why the addict can find love and compassion no matter their struggle.

When I see a Boys Club gym filled with several hundred people getting clothing which the church has donated–that is love.

When I watch a church buy Christmas gifts for 300 children and then tell those children, “These aren’t from us; they are from your parent who is prison,” that is love. (See: A True Picture of Justice and Grace)

When I see a family leave the comforts of America and go to an undisclosed location to tell others about Jesus and to be sent there by the generous financial support of a church–that is love.

When I see someone welcomed into a worship service or home even though they don’t believe the Bible or agree with the New Testament definition of marriage, but they are respected, valued, and cared for–that is love.

What Church?

I have no doubt the problems listed by this author are true in many churches. I even believe the issues are a part of every church. However, I strongly disagree that these problems define most churches.

As I read the article, one thing deeply struck me–these issues do not match with my experience. As I look at the people I worship beside on a weekly basis, some of these issues are present some of the time. But we should expect that. We proclaim it with regularity–blessed are the poor in spirit. We make it abundantly clear that other people do not need to be like us. They, and we, need to be like Jesus.

This article has received great fanfare. And maybe it raises some key points, but it doesn’t resonate with me. To me it is a straw-man argument. He has made great points against a church that doesn’t really exist.

If that is his experience with the church, he needs a new experience. I have plenty of churches to which I could point that would show him a different way. (See: Every Pro Has Its Con)

It may not be a fair reading, but to me, this author’s article sounds like a pitch on Shark Tank. He has laid out his critique and I keep waiting for him to say, “There must be a better way.” Yet when it comes to Christianity there is not a better way. The church is the creation of Jesus and it is the way we have been commanded to go. The church is not perfect, but neither are we. She, like us, is always in need of grace.

Jan 092015

A Checklist to Gauge Your Emotional Health

What does it mean to be emotionally healthy?

On multiple occasions I have written about the need for emotional health. Consider:

While these articles might discuss the need for emotional health or a byproduct of emotional health, they do not define what determines whether or not a person is emotionally healthy.

When someone is physically healthy, we assume the person’s body is operating as it should. Health doesn’t demand perfection, but it does mean the body can endure normal life with a significant level of success.

The same is true for emotional health.

An emotionally healthy person can properly navigate the demands and circumstances of their lives in a proper and successful manner. It doesn’t mean they will be perfect in every situation but it does mean that even when mistakes are made, there are the proper checks and balances to get them back on course.

This isn’t a comprehensive list, but consider the following questions to see if you are emotionally healthy:

1. Do you take responsibility for your actions? Many people do not. They blame others, make excuses, and play the role of the victim. Emotionally healthy people understand what they control and what they do not. They see more of their life under their control than beyond it.

2. Can you clearly communicate what you think and feel? No need to hide or excuse or downplay your thoughts or emotions. Emotionally healthy people have the ability to identify their emotions and properly communicate them to others. If you know an emotionally-healthy person, you do not have to read their minds to know what they are thinking. They can properly share their thoughts and opinions. (See: It’s Not My Job to Read Your Mind)

3. Can you appreciate people who are different than you? One sign of someone who is not emotionally healthy is fear. They are afraid of others and few things are more fearful than differences. Emotionally unhealthy people see differences as problems and cannot tolerate others who think, act, or believe differently than them. Emotionally healthy people appreciate the differences in life. They understand that issues are often nuanced and other people might come to a different conclusion than them.

4. Are you defined by other people? Emotionally healthy people are self-regulated. Their happiness and satisfaction is defined by their own choices and decisions. Emotionally unhealthy people are often defined by others. If someone disapproves of them, they are devastated. If someone makes a decision different than what they would make, they are shocked.

5. Do you refuse to manipulate or be manipulated by others? Emotional health is often determined by one’s ability to draw boundaries. There is a distinct line between what is my responsibility and what is your responsibility. I respect your boundaries and I do not let you cross my boundaries. An absence of emotional health is often a byproduct of a blurring of boundary lines.

6. Do you feel emotions without being defined by them? Emotional health is not stoicism. We are emotional people and must be able to identify, define, and communicate what we are feeling. However, we can not be fully dictated by our emotions. Part of maturity is the ability to delay satisfaction or to understand that satisfying current desires is not always the best course of action. (See: You Better Make Up Your Mind)

7. Do you make wise choices? Emotionally healthy people have the ability to do the right thing. Because they are not defined by their emotions or circumstances, they are not rash or revengeful. They have the ability to divide their emotions from their actions and make the proper choices. If a person regularly makes wrong choices, they are likely suffering from a lack of emotional health.

Nobody is completely healthy emotionally. Everyone fails at one or all of the preceding questions. Yet some are better than others and wise people are always trying to grow toward emotional health.

If a few of these questions raised issues within your life, get with a friend and discuss areas in which you want to improve.

If most of these questions identified problems in your life, call a professional counselor and work your way toward emotional health.

Jan 072015

Love a Person, Not the Idea of Love

The stereotype is of a single woman desperate for a relationship. She’s at an age in which she assumes she should already be married. It seems as though all her friends are married and having children. She so longs for a relationship that her desperation is felt by everyone around her.

Friends are afraid to even mention a guy.

Her family no longer asks her about men.

Every man she has ever met knows she wants a relationship.

Her desperation is the single greatest hindrance to her having an actual relationship. Anytime someone shows the least bit of interest she smothers them and causes them to flee. (See: Don’t Blame God When You Break-up With Your Boyfriend)

She thinks she is simply being open and trusting. She might even say, “What is wrong with men today? They don’t want a real relationship.” What she doesn’t realize is that no one wants a relationship with someone who would be an open book on the first date.

Trust Should Take Time

Imagine a friend leaving her credit card on her windshield with the password attached to the card via post-it note. When you ask your friend about her foolishness, she says, “I’m just a very open person, and I quickly trust people.” It would be ridiculous. Yet how many times have you heard, “I’m just a very open person in relationships.”

It’s not openness; it’s foolishness. It’s not transparency; it’s desperation. It’s not the pathway to a relationship; it’s the prevention of a relationship.

Openness, transparency, and trust are vital elements of a healthy relationship. However, no relationship should begin with one person immediately giving total access to their heart.

Trust must be built. When someone immediately jumps into a relationship thinking about forever and completely giving the other person access to their heart, body, and soul, they are actually revealing they struggle with establishing proper boundaries and should not be trusted.

When a guy or a girl feels smothered after the first date or two, they should run because the other person is not in a healthy place to have a true relationship. (See: Dating to Break-up–a Unique Perspective)

Because they are in love with the idea of love, they cannot love another person.

The stereotype is that of a woman who falls into this pattern, but it happens just as much with men.

Two False Relationships

There are two current trends within dating which are hindering meaningful relationships.

Some engage in the “hook-up” culture. Refusing to take the risk and be known, they pretend they are above typical dating. They “hang out” and are “just friends,” but also engage in serious physical relationships with the very people they refuse to get to know on an intellectual level. Few things will sabotage the potential of a meaningful relationship like ignoring proper physical boundaries. By engaging the body before the mind, we confuse both. The mind can’t fairly evaluate the other person as a potential mate, and the body becomes trained to move on to the next relationship when the physical contact loses some of its excitement. (See: Pastoral Advice for Single Women)

Others are married at first date. In a culture which is largely rejecting exclusive relationships, some are creating them well before they should happen. Desperate for a relationship, they assume if the first date goes well that the other person should be fully committed. It too is a recipe for disaster. In no other scenario do we so quickly commit to something, yet some start thinking about forever just because a dinner and a movie went well. (See: You’re Not My Soul Mate)

Both scenarios are wrong because neither values the other person. In both cases, the relationship is a vehicle to use the person in order to meet personal needs.

A relationship is supposed to be about another person. It grows slowly in trust and comfort so that we can share the fullness of who we are. This should never happen quickly. It’s something which should be earned over time.

We should value ourselves enough that we aren’t willing to give complete access to our heart to just anyone. We should understand boundaries in order to protect ourselves and others. We should not confuse foolishly rushing a relationship with what it means to be open, loving, and honest. We should value privacy and understand that some things should be saved for very few people.

This doesn’t mean we should run from love or that we should be afraid to let our guard down. We should, however, wisely progress in a relationship learning if the other person is trustworthy and kind enough for us to open our hearts to them. (See: This Is Who You Want to Marry)

Many people are more in love with the idea of love than they are with any specific person. As long as they desire a relationship more than a specific person, they will likely experience neither.

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