Responding With Grace

It’s not what happens to us, but how we respond to what happens to us that really make a difference in our lives. Most of us encounter situations that afford great opportunities for offense, revenge, lashing out, and other expressions of anger and hurt. It happens as a husband, wife, father, mother or supervisor. It even happens simply driving down the road on a busy day. If I’m going to pursue God’s best in my life, It’s important that I learn how to respond in these situations.

Genesis 3:22-23 (ESV)
22  Then the LORD God said, “Behold, the man has become like one of us in knowing good and evil. Now, lest he reach out his hand and take also of the tree of life and eat, and live forever—”
23  therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden to work the ground from which he was taken.

God responded to Adam and Eve’s sin with grace. He immediately made room for repentance so that they would not be forever lost in their sin. He responded with grace so that his relationship with them could one day be restored.

How do I respond when someone sins against me? Is it with grace so that they might grow and learn or is it with condemnation? Do I respond to others as if I am a sinner myself saved by the grace of God who continues to grow through my mistakes? Do I immediately leave room for repentance and restoration or am I quick to judge and condemn others?

Father, forgive me for the times when I was quick to judge others in my own self-righteous attitude. Help me to respond to sin with grace and create opportunities for others to experience the love and forgiveness that you have shown me. In Jesus’ name I pray, amen!

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life! Have a great 2016!

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Ten Confessions of a Church Planter!

This is the first blog I’ve written since February when we launched LifeBridge Tyler. It has been quite a journey and continues to be the most thrilling, challenging, and yet joyful experience of my life! So, my first confession is to all of you faithful followers who have taken the time to read Reaching Forward: I’ve let you down. I’ve let you down for not writing and encouraging you to keep Reaching Forward in your life. Now let’s continue with today’s content.

I’ve known for 12 years that God has called me to plant a church! I have prayed, read the books and prepared. I reached a point about a year and half ago when I felt God was saying now is the time. I have the vision, I have the passion, I have the degree, I have the experience, I have the training; and now I’m ready! However, what I was not expecting was the experience that is unfolding as we speak. Instead, I’m learning a ton about myself and my relationship with God. Now I confess, but with each confession comes a fresh perspective and direction that God is taking me and I pray you can identify and learn from each one.

1. I wasn’t as smart as I thought I was. I’m still learning. Good ideas and proven methods are great and should be sought after, but context and application is everything. In other words, there are no cookie cutters when it comes to walking out your calling and mission with God. 

2. I wasn’t as mature as I thought I was. I’m still growing. I’ll admit it, I’ve lost my cool more than once; with my wife, my children, myself and even God. You will always discover what’s inside you when you get squeezed. Never stop growing. 

3. I wasn’t as strong as I thought I was. God is now my strength. The difference in strength for leaders is level of responsibility. When someone else is responsible it’s easier to be strong in the face of adversity. However, the lesson here is to know what responsibility is yours and what belongs to God. He and I still discuss this regularly! No matter what, I need Him!

4. I wasn’t as close to God as I thought I was. I’m passionately drawing near to Him. God is consistently drawing me nearer and nearer so that I can see things the way He sees them. Not that I’m getting it all, but He’s trying. 

5. I didn’t pray as much as I thought I did. I’m praying more intentionally and more fervently. The only one that ultimately has the wisdom, strength and direction you need is God. As an under-shepherd to Jesus, I’m more drawn to prayer now than ever before! When you think you pray enough, thing again!

6. I didn’t understand what I thought I knew. I’m relearning key lessons from a different perspective. It’s amazing how what you know changes based on your perspective. Knowledge is great, but without personal application it’s pretty much useless. There’s no greater teacher than experience. Oh, and don’t judge others based on knowledge until you’ve been there.

7. I didn’t expect a relationship vacuum. I’m connecting with others more intentionally. We need people around us who care about us, especially when going through the most challenging seasons of life. Don’t be caught short on friends. God will use them to get you through another day.

8. I didn’t expect the unexpected. I’m prepared for surprises. The best way to know this is to measure your immediate response to the unexpected. Is it failure, massive roadblocks, or opportunity for creativity and growth? Don’t let an obstacle stop you – keep going! Find a way and get past it.

9. I don’t have what it takes. I need God and other people. I’m amazed at how much I don’t know how to do! I could tell you but the list is entirely too long for this post. Surround yourself with ALL types of people, not just those like you. Make room at the table for creatives that can’t stay focused and the OCDers that focus too much! Put them at different tables but include them all! 

10. I never knew the joy that’s possible when faced with the impossible. I’m having the time of my life on this journey with God! I never knew the hardest season of my life would also be the most fulfilling. I’m experiencing God, other people, and even myself on a level that is crazy awesome! I wouldn’t change a minute of it! Well, maybe just one! 

Keep REACHING FORWARD even in the difficult realities that life hands you! Embrace your journey and your own confessions, but turn them into opportunities for growth. It’s all about God pruning and shaping you into the amazing person you are and are becoming!

Feel free to share a confession or two of your own!

How to overcome a dissatisfied life.

In spite of all the promises, satisfaction is never a guarantee. The reality is no one can offer you true satisfaction. They might ensure you get what you bargain for, but they cannot guarantee satisfaction. I talk to people regularly who are simply dissatisfied with their lives. Their job is not the right environment or doesn’t pay enough; their marriage is on the rocks; their finances are not where they should be; they don’t have enough friends in their lives; they are dissatisfied with the way they look; and I could go on but I think you get the picture.

 

Why are we so dissatisfied?

Why are Americans so dissatisfied with life while living in the most prosperous country in the world? I think one reason is that we are bombarded by promises of satisfaction. We live under the illusion that we are always supposed to be satisfied and “happy”, so we live our lives with that expectation. Drastic decisions are made in search of satisfaction. People go in debt for possessions, divorce their spouse, quit their jobs, change churches, or spend a fortune on the latest fad or electronic gadget because they think it will bring them satisfaction. The marketing community does a fantastic job at selling us satisfaction. Most advertisements we see convince us that we deserve and can expect satisfaction and their product is the answer.

Most Christians (hopefully all), will tell you that true satisfaction can only come from having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and they would be correct. If that’s the case, why are so many Christians as well as non-Christians living defeated, dissatisfied lives? I think aside from the obvious fact that we all need to grow in our relationship with Christ and find contentment in living our lives in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit, there is a heart condition that is plaguing our society resulting in the dis-ease of dissatisfaction; the condition of ungratefulness.

Living a satisfied life comes from cultivating a grateful heart.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says “in everything give thanks, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” Melody Beattie said “Gratefulness unlocks the fullness of life.” Gratefulness is appreciating what you do have with the understanding that without it your life would be less. Living under the illusion that your life will be better when you obtain something you don’t already have is a trap that keeps you locked in a world of dissatisfaction. Once we begin to develop a heart of gratefulness we are empowered to live life to it’s fullness with God.  Here are some tips on developing a grateful heart.

1. Change your expectations. Don’t go through life expecting to have the perfect job, perfect house, perfect spouse, perfect body, perfect bank account or perfect friends. Unrealistic expectations will always lead to dissatisfaction. To expect something better than what you already have is to reject what you do have. The feeling of dissatisfaction comes from rejecting who you are or what you have. Embrace your life and live it to its fullest while partnering with God for his best in every area. In other words, work on making the old better rather than throwing out the old for something new. The new will eventually become old and you’ll repeat the same pattern.

2. Practice gratefulness daily. Pray and thank God for everything and everyone in your life. Thank God that he is at work on your behalf and that all things will work together for your good. Thank God for your job. Thank God for your house. Thank God you have a car to drive. Thank God you have food in your belly today. Thank God you have clothes on your back. Tell your spouse how much you appreciate him/her and how thankful you are for him/her. Start practicing gratefulness and you will begin to develop a heart that sees the good in your life.

3. Seek purpose in life, not possessions. The most meaningful aspects of life come from our contribution to others rather than from what we have. The most satisfying life you can live is to serve others and add value to their lives. The things we have only bring momentary pleasures until the new wears off. Then the search begins for something new yet again. However, impacting someone else in a positive way has lasting value. It not only fulfills a great sense of purpose in you, but it leaves a mark on the world that only you can leave. Start with your family and go from there.

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life. It doesn’t come from the external, but the internal abiding of God’s presence. And be grateful!

Comments welcome.

 

Leading From the Middle – Part III

I recently had the opportunity to appear on The Pastor’s Life video blog to discuss the various nuances of leading from the second chair. I quickly realized that I had a lot to say about this subject based on my current position in a local church as well as 21 years in the military where everyone is second chair to someone.

There are many dynamics at work for a person leading from the middle. Direction, leadership style, desires, and personality come down from the top leader, while personnel issues, problems, tensions, questions, and various other factors float up toward the top leader. In the middle is a leader who is attempting to lead, manage, motivate, inspire, and stabilize from both directions. How does a leader in this position learn to lead with confidence and joy rather than hesitation and frustration? To answer that question, I have broken my comments into three parts relative to the relationship between the first and second leader. You can find Part I and II here. Today we look at Part III which discusses a couple of the major tensions that the leader in middle faces.

Think Synergy: two or more things functioning together to produce a result not independently obtainable.

Part III: Tensions to Manage

1. The tension of progression. Most ambitious leaders are always looking to their next level. I’m sure many church leaders in my position have asked the question that I have asked myself time and again: Should I move on to be a Lead Pastor? I have found that this question is better treated as a tension to manage rather than a problem to solve by forcing the decision. If a leader is constantly battling with this decision inside of himself, he will eventually become discontented and at the very least lose focus. Forcing this decision too early could be a detriment for both the organization and the leaders. I’ve found that the best way to look at this is not to ask “should I move on to be a lead pastor”, but rather, “what is God doing right now – in me as well as in the big picture of the organization.” We have to remember that we are only one part in the equation of what God is doing through us. Keeping the big picture in mind while remaining Kingdom focused is how I have learned to manage this tension best. When the time comes to move it will be clear to everyone involved.

2. Differences in leadership style. One of the tensions that leaders at all levels deal with is style of leadership. Some are more directive, some are more participative, some are very involved while others are mostly hands-off. I learned a long time ago that it’s best as a leader to focus on his or her own leadership style within his or her purview. The key for this tension is to be yourself and focus on your own strengths. I believe an organization can be much more effective when there is an environment where the leaders can lead from their own strengths and style. The most important factor that enables this type of environment is trust that is built on shared values and a common vision. We can embrace differences in leadership style when there is mutual trust that we are all moving in the right direction.

Leading from the second seat is not always easy, but it is rewarding given the right attitude and ability to manage the tensions that exist. Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life and leadership! Embrace the season that you’re in and enjoy the journey along the way!

Comments welcome.

How to solve communication problems.

In almost every relational conflict that I encounter I hear these words: “We just can’t seem to communicate.” There are tons of research and surveys out there that tell us communication is the number one struggle in relationships. Most of the time we refer to communication in the context of marriage; however, communication struggles exist among friends, co-workers, extended family members, supervisor-employee relations, leaders and staff, and any other relationship that you can think of.

Why is communication so hard?

Communicating what we want to say is not the hard part. People often think the problem is not being able to get their point across. Here’s another common phrase: “I can’t get him/her to understand.” The problem is rarely found in finding ways to say what we want to say. Most of us communicate very clearly. When was the last time you had difficulty ordering a meal ‘exactly’ the way you wanted it in a restaurant or drive-thru? Not too difficult to do, right? That’s because saying what we want to say is usually not the problem. (Caveat: One point to take note of here, however, is the way we say it: tone of voice, body language, words we use, and attitude.)

Communication problems generally occur not because we don’t know how to talk, but because we don’t know how to listen well. How do I listen well? The key to listening well is to discern the need of the other person in the present moment. One of the most profound verses regarding communication is found in Ephesians 4:29:

“Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear.”

The first part of this verse goes without a whole lot of explanation. An unwholesome word is one that tears down, criticizes and bullies the other person. Just don’t do it!

Once we discern the need of the moment, then we will be able to choose the words that build up and supply the need. There can be various needs in the moment when it comes to communication that can go deep into the human emotion and psyche. But generally speaking, there are three needs that exist in every exchange of communication particularly regarding conflict. Here’s another hint: You will never discern a person’s deeper needs until these three are met.

Three needs that are present in every effort to communicate.

1. The need to be heard. Everyone wants and needs to be heard. When we listen with open ears so that we can clearly hear what is being said then we are on our way to listening well. We are not meeting others need to be heard when we interrupt, change the subject, or tune out.

2. The need to be understood. We’re not listening simply to hear the words that are being said. When we listen well, we listen for understanding. That means active listening. Active listening asks questions to clarify the meaning of what you think you just heard. One way to do that is to say, “what I hear you saying is…….Is that right?” We must demonstrate that we are really trying to understand how a person feels. Everyone wants and needs to be accurately understood.

3. The need to be validated. The easiest way to sabotage a conversation, discussion or disagreement is to NOT validate how a person feels. A person has the right to feel the way they feel. Whether or not those feelings are based on perception or misinterpretation is irrelevant at the moment. Feelings are real and should be validated as such. You can validate feelings by saying something like, “I can see you are angry and I want to help resolve that with you.” “I know you are disappointed and I’m sorry for my part in this.” Everyone wants and needs to be validated in how they feel.

When we learn to listen well, our focus is on meeting the other person’s needs in the moment. Those needs start with being heard, understood and validated. From there, your communication will be able to go deeper and get to the heart of the matter. Your relationships will be enhanced because your communication will become productive.

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in all of your relationships.

Comments welcome.

Three tips for growing in patience with others.

One of the sayings that we used in the Army was “hurry up and wait!” It is quickly learned from day one of Basic Training. It comes from the fact that when you move from point A to point B in the Army you move with a purpose. You go nowhere slowly or dragging your heels. The Drill Sergeant continually yells, “hurry up, hurry up” so that you can get there quickly only to stand in line and wait.

This pattern is repeated in our lives daily. We rush to the grocery store on our way home and find ourselves waiting in line to check out. We rush to get to work on time to find ourselves waiting at every stop light along the way. We rush to the doctor appointment only to be told “please have a seat and wait for your name to be called.” We rush to our favorite restaurant and are told, “the wait time is 15 to 20 minutes.” The truth is, our lives are made up of hurry up and wait patterns. We all know this and most of us have learned to expect and deal quite well with the waiting periods in life. Patience in waiting is all about our expectations and self-talk while we wait. I wrote about that here.

However, when it comes to being patient with people, we sometimes lose our patience! Lack of patience with family members, friends, co-workers, employees, and supervisors can cause major stress in our lives. Here are a few tips for growing in patience with others.

Three tips for growing in patience with others.

1. Embrace the reality that your life’s journey is about sharing in the multiple journeys of the people that are around you every day. A life of meaning is a journey that includes others lest we go through life alone. Imagine what would happen if everyone you were impatient with was suddenly removed from your life to spare you the aggravation. It wouldn’t take very long and you would be free of those people who try your patience. In fact, you would be free of people altogether. Alone.

2. Look for the good in others. It’s easy to judge the motives of another person’s heart, but it’s easier to misjudge. We often get irritated at others when we think their motives are wrong. However, if we look for the good in others we can just as easily imagine that their motives are right. The fact is we can’t judge another person’s heart, only God can do that. Anytime we take the position of God in the life of someone else, we are setting ourselves up for frustration.

3. Slow down. It’s difficult to always try and keep up with someone, but it’s even more difficult sometimes to slow down and allow others to travel with you. If you are overly driven in life you might have a tendency to pull everyone with you rather than letting them walk with you thereby creating impatience within yourself. Slow down and allow people to join you in your life. Henry David Thoreau said “The man who goes alone can start the day, but he who travels with another must wait until the other is ready.”

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life! Be patient with yourself and others! It’s all about how well you value the relationships of those around you. God is patient with you and me. We ought ourselves to be patient with everyone!

How to find consistent satisfaction in life.

Most people’s lives are pretty much the same day after day barring a life-altering event such as marriage, divorce, a new job, moving to a new location, and so on. For most of us, however, today is not much different than yesterday. Nevertheless, one day we’re excited about life and ready to conquer the world and the next day we don’t even want to get out of bed. Many of us go through life in sort of an ebb and flow between satisfaction and dissatisfaction. Our lives are inconsistent when it comes to satisfaction, which causes us to seek out that which is missing. The problem is, we never find it. With this in mind, let’s ponder these questions:

  • Why do I feel happy with my life one day and sad the next?
  • Why do I feel good about myself one day and struggle with insecurity the next?
  • Why do I feel confident one day and inadequate the next?
  • Why do I feel loved by others one day and judged by them the next?
  • Why do I feel satisfied in my job one day and question it the next?

I could go on, but I think you get the idea.

Feelings and ultimately behavior are determined by the tape that is running in our minds.

I am intrigued by the power of the mind. Scripture speaks time and again about the importance of our thoughts. What we think about matters. I’ve learned that in relationships, as well as life in general, that it’s not my circumstances that affects my life most, but what I ‘think’ about my circumstances.

I want to go deeper than mere thoughts. Thoughts in and of themselves will not necessarily effect how you feel. However, the thoughts that you MEDITATE on will not only determine how you feel, but how you behave. One of the Hebrew words in Scripture for meditation means ‘resounding music’. Have you ever had a song stuck in your head that played over and over again? That’s what the word means. I call it the tape that is constantly running in my mind. Everyone is meditating on something.

The reality of our lives is born when the meditations of our hearts come out of our mouths.

The reason we have inconsistency in our contentment toward life is primarily attributed to what we allow ourselves to meditate on. Our hearts follow what we meditate on. Once it is in our hearts it comes out of our mouths and our reality is born. For example, when you constantly meditate on the perfect job, your heart will leave the job you’re in and you will become dissatisfied. You will begin to talk about the perfect job and your reality will be that your current job is no good for you. The same process is true in relationships, areas of insecurity, moral behavior, and many other areas of life. We must replace that running tape with a new one.

How to improve satisfaction is life.

1. Meditate (think on, ponder day and night) on the Word of God. Ensure your meditations and words are pleasing to God. (Joshua 1:8; Ps. 19:14)

2. Meditate on what is true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, commendable, and worthy of praise, and reject what is not. (Philippians 4:8)

3. Meditate on the will of God not worldly passions. (1 Pet 4:1-2) Meditating on worldly passions will always lead your heart to dissatisfaction and invoke feelings of fear, anger, restlessness, and internal struggle. Instead, meditate and focus on God’s will for your relationships, job, health, etc.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to the satisfaction that can only be found in Jesus Christ. Meditating on Him will lead to a life that gets better each day!