Cultivating a Valentine’s Day Heart!

heartAs Valentine’s Day approaches there’s love in the air, so to speak. People are focused on how they are going to show love to that special someone in their lives. A person’s heart is usually oriented toward being kind, thoughtful and loving on this specific day of the year. However, true love is realized when we develop a heart that is oriented toward that special someone throughout the year not just on Valentine’s Day or birthdays. I was thinking, wouldn’t it really be special if we cultivated a Valentine’s Day heart every day so that we live our lives heart first toward those we love. Here are a few tips for those who desire to live every day with a Valentine’s Day heart.

1. Be quick to forgive.

Ephesians 4:32 says “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” People who cultivate a Valentine’s Day heart are quick to forgive. While some things are very difficult to forgive and require a process, most of us hold on to grudges that keep us on edge and not very loving. The best tip to cultivate a heart that is quick to forgive is to pray for those who are close to you daily, especially those who have wronged you. Prayer softens the heart and allows God access to those hidden places in the heart that need healing. There is great freedom in living a grudge-free life!

2. Practice a grateful heart.

First Thessalonians 5:18 says “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.” People who develop a grateful heart are some of the most content people I know. Most people live with a sense of discontentment underneath the surface because of something we don’t have or something we have yet to accomplish. Find something everyday to be grateful for – and start with those people in your life that are important to you. After all, a Valentine’s Day heart is really about saying thank you for being you and sharing your life with me. The real blessings in life are those people we enjoy life with every day. Be grateful for them.

3. Be teachable.

Proverbs 13:18 says “Poverty and disgrace come to him who ignores instruction, but whoever heeds reproof is honored.” The first problem with being teachable is that we feel like we have to qualify the person through whom the correction comes. It’s like we stay stuck in the adolescent mindset that people without the proper “authority” are not allowed to speak into our lives. However, people who are teachable develop a heart that hears the Lord through others and takes heed to instruction. It’s not about who does the correcting; it’s about acknowledging we’re not perfect but being willing to grow. This is the kind of heart that communicates love and mutual respect for one another.

The best Valentine’s Day gift we can give our special someone is a Valentine’s Day heart every day of the year!

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s best in your life!

Comments welcome!


Why The Context of Community is Vital for Repentance.

ImageI was reminded in my Lent devotion this morning (Journey to the Cross) of the importance of community when it comes to repentance. Repentance is one of those words that we often do not like to hear because it implies wrongdoing on our part. When we do realize that repentance is required, most of us want to keep it in isolation and make it a very private matter between us and God. There is nothing wrong with private repentance, and in fact should be dealt with as a personal matter between you and God. After all, repentance is a change of mind; a turning away from sin and toward God. However, being in community with others brings great benefits in the area of repentance that leads to genuine spiritual growth.

1. Community reveals blind spots.

We all have blind spots from time to time that need to be pointed out. I’m reminded of the Pharisee in Luke 18:11-12 who said (paraphrasing) that “I thank you God that I’m not like other men who sin all the time because I pay my tithes and fast.” One of the greatest sins is thinking that we are more righteous than we are. This is a blind spot. We need others in our lives who can lovingly help us see things in our lives that we can’t see for ourselves.

2. Community neutralizes the enemy.

In community we can share our struggles and talk about temptations and sin. We need a place where we can share how our brokenness is causing us to look for joy, worth, and peace in things outside of God. When these areas of our lives are brought from the darkness of our hearts into the light, we neutralize the enemy’s strategy to isolate and torment us. Two can stand together stronger than one. James 5:16 says “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another that you may be healed.”

The point of repentance in the context of community is not so we can judge or condemn others; and, it’s not so that we can find someone who will tell us it’s okay and condone our sin. It’s also not to ask or expect everyone to fix our problems. The point of repentance in the context of community is so that we can weep with those who weep, rejoice with those who rejoice, and pray for one another in our struggles. When we are able to find repentance in the context of community, then we will experience genuine times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord.

Keep REACHING FORWARD for God’s grace and mercy through repentance. Get into a community of believers that love God and love others. You will find the grace of God being administered by the Holy Spirit through the body of believers.

Comments are welcome.

Three Steps to Understanding Others in Life and Leadership.

ImageThe ability to understand others correctly is vital to the health of relationships. One of the key factors in communication is interpretation. An incorrect understanding will lead to an incorrect interpretation, leading to faulty conclusions, which will most likely result in the wrong response.

Whether you are a leader, an employee, a spouse, or a parent, seeking to understanding those with whom you are close will greatly enhance your relationship. Putting forth the effort to listen to and understand others communicates that you actually care about them. To disregard understanding communicates that the only thing important in the relationship is your own opinion. Scripture tells us in Proverbs 18:2:

A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his opinion.

Steps to improving the health of relationships

1. Take responsibility for understanding.

Understanding is a personal responsibility. Most of us are quick to judge rather than exercising patience for understanding. The place to start in trying to understand others is to suspend judgement and realize that there are unseen factors at work.

2. Ask questions to clarify.

Interpretation is most important. The more emotionally involved a conversation is the less clarity tends to be present. Questions must be asked in order to ensure that you are hearing what you think you are hearing. If you and I skip this step, we will likely misinterpret, misjudge, and respond inappropriately. Ask simple questions like,

  • What do you mean by that?
  • Why is that important to you?
  • What do you want me to understand about how you feel?

3. Validate concerns.

Validate a person’s concerns even when you don’t understand. Remember this: Your lack of understanding does not make a person’s concerns invalid. When we validate others’ concerns, we communicate that we care. I’ve recently written more on this topic here.

Unhealthy relationships create stress, anxiety and avoidance. We all should desire to be in healthy relationships at home and at work. Let’s not be fools that are only interested in our own opinions; rather, let’s keep REACHING FORWARD to understand those we care about in our circle of life.

Feel free to leave comments.

The Power of Validation in Life and Leadership!

validateThere is one aspect of communication that is vitally important in all relationships; marriage, parenting, managing, leading, selling, customer service…you name it. I don’t claim to be a relationship expert, but experience has taught me (the hard way in many cases) that the quality of every relationship is contingent upon one aspect of communication; without which one will certainly move the relationship in a negative direction. Most of you are thinking about listening. Listening is absolutely important and obviously first in communication. However, listening is only the beginning and something much more effective is required in moving the relationship in a positive direction. The key component that moves a relationship forward is validation.

Validation Creates Safety in Relationships

Validation simply means to substantiate or make something valid. Validation does not mean agreement and is especially important where disagreement is present. Validation is nothing more than communicating to others that their feelings, point of view, or idea is valid. Most people simply want to know that they have been heard, and that what they had to say was not rejected or dismissed as unimportant or insignificant. Validation creates a sense of safety where people can share what’s on their minds and hearts without fear of how the other will react. Once safety is created by validation, certain qualities are instilled that ultimately lead to a healthy relationship regardless of the context. Here are a few big ones.

1. Validation instills respect

When people’s thoughts, ideas, and feelings are validated, they feel respected. Validation communicates to that staff member or spouse that you uphold his or her right to have an opinion. To dismiss or minimize how someone feels or thinks is communicating that they still need to earn your respect. If this goes unresolved long enough, the relationship will deteriorate to a superficial level where good communication never takes place. However, when someone feels respected by you, they will not only say what is on their hearts, but often times what you need to hear.

2. Validation instills value

In order for a relationship to have value, the members of the relationship must feel valued by the other. Validating someone by saying something like, “I can see that you are very concerned about this issue and I would like to hear your thoughts” communicates that you value the person and that you care. Dismissing ideas or feelings communicates that you do not place value on how that person thinks or feels. Eventually, he or she will protect themselves from rejection by becoming quite and withdrawn moving the relationship in a negative direction.

3. Validation instills progression

One of the biggest benefits of validation is that it promotes a healthy progression in the relationship. When people feel safe, respected and valued by others, they are more open, honest and forthcoming with ideas and concerns. A sense of teamwork and connection takes place where synergy happens and the relationship moves forward in a positive direction.

There is great power in validating other people’s thoughts, feelings and ideas. You can REACH FORWARD to becoming better at life and leadership by learning to validate others in meaningful conversations. Your relationships will be healthier, happier, and more fulfilling.

Feel free to join the conversation by sharing your comments.

Why being religious doesn’t work!

Religion without relationship always leads to rebellion. I watch people resort to religious duty when things get bad in their lives. It could be that a person loses their job, their marriage is falling apart or they experience some other unfortunate event in life. It is worth examining how we face crisis and deal with life’s struggles. Many people internalize their misfortunes and conclude that they have somehow disappointed God and must get back into his good graces. Religious duty becomes the focus of the day. Perhaps it is religious duty that causes people to feel better about themselves.

It’s not about religious duty, it’s about relationship!

God doesn’t want our religious duty. Oh sure, he wants our obedience, but not from a position of duty. He wants our obedience from a position of love. All of the religious duty in the world will not get us one step closer to God without embracing the loving relationship of the Father. Relationship requires one being honest with himself and with God. It requires approaching God with humility of heart. Relationship requires an exchange of our life for the life God desires for us. Relationship requires true repentance and shaping our lives around the principles found in Scripture. Relationship is about understanding that our righteousness is found only in Christ not in our ability to do good.

Religious duty might make you feel better about yourself in the midst of crisis, but relationship on the front end will determine the degree of impact the crisis has on your life.

REACH FORWARD for God’s best in your life, not through religious duty but through relationship. He’s not waiting for you to perform for him. He’s waiting for you to open your heart and embrace him so that he can embrace you.

Leading From the Middle – Part I

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.

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

Part I: Shared elements that are necessary

1. Shared Vision – It is vitally important that the first and second leaders share the vision for the church or organization. The leadership provided by these two individuals must point in the same direction. I joined with my Lead Pastor because his heart for ministry and overall vision resonated with me in a profound way. Over the years, we took what was at the core of our hearts and shaped the vision into what it is today. If the person leading from the middle does not own the vision from his or her heart, chances are that person is in the wrong position.

2. Shared Values – It is near impossible for two people to share the exact same values because we all come from different life experiences and backgrounds. However, it is possible and necessary to identify those values that are shared among you. The bottom line here is that values inform and shape a leader’s decision-making. Values steer the ship in the direction that it should go. If leaders are making decisions from different sets of values, then more than likely the ship is being steered in two different directions. We spent months hammering out our shared values and identifying those things that would genuinely guide us as we endeavor to accomplish the vision set before us.

3. Shared Strategy – Strategy is one of those things that is going to morph and evolve until you find what works. At times, different leaders are going to feel more strongly about a particular strategy than others. If there are fundamental differences in ministry philosophy and strategy then forward movement is going to be frustrated. In church world there are various models of discipleship from programs to Sunday school to small groups to a buffet model that includes all of the above. The key point for us in finding what works has been in sharing together in the development of our strategy along the way.

4. Mutual Trust – The most important element that can exist between the first and second leader is trust. Trust is developed over time. If the first and second leaders do not develop a mutual trust for one another, then neither of them will be able to lead effectively. Lack of trust among these two individuals will stall progress and adversely effect the morale of the organization. We have developed a mutual trust because we keep truth in the open. We have given each other permission to communicate openly and share our hearts with one another. The result has been a mutual respect and trust that empowers each of us to lead from our respective seats.

There are other aspects of leadership that must co-exist between the first and second leader; however, I’ve found that these four are essential to setting you on a path of leading with confidence and joy along your day-to-day journey.

Keep REACHING FORWARD to God’s best for  your church or organization. Together we can make a difference and impact our world in positive ways.

Comments welcome.

Achieving Success Through Boundaries

Most people don’t like boundaries. When you think of boundaries you usually think of something that is restricting your freedom or getting in your way. Boundaries are everywhere! As I sit here, I see a glass covering over my fireplace, a fence around my yard, and a screen over my window. On our roadways we find double yellow lines, guard rails and rumble strips. Boundaries are everywhere! Boundaries are not to be feared or avoided, but embraced and carefully considered. Boundaries create a channel that moves your life, business and family in a specific direction so that you can reach your desired destination. However, without boundaries the destination is left up to chance. Think of a river with no boundaries; it becomes a swamp with no clear direction or purpose.

There is great success to be achieved through the establishment of boundaries in our lives.

1. Boundaries protect against unhealthy outside influences. We are bombarded by people and things that have it as their goal to influence us toward their agenda. Clear boundaries prevent good ideas from steering us away from our vision. Without clear boundaries, we are open to the influences of everything around us. When we establish clear boundaries, we are free to choose healthy influences that enable us to accomplish our goals and empower us for success.

2. Boundaries protect us from drifting off course. We have a tendency to drift toward that which we are focusing on. Like the rumble strips on the side of the road, boundaries alert us that we are drifting off course. For example, if we have a tendency to spend money on things that we are passionate about yet it doesn’t fit the budget, then a boundary would be a predetermined dollar amount. Once we approach that boundary it’s time to stop.

3. Boundaries build character and form integrity. Internal boundaries keep us in check so that we build character and form a life of integrity. When anger surfaces, a boundary must be in place that prevents it from becoming rage and resentment. When an argument ensues, we must have a boundary that says “far enough” before words begin to come out that hurt and injure others. A boundary should prevent that occasional drink from becoming more than occasional and then a daily part of your life. We must build internal boundaries that say “stop” when we get near them.
Boundaries are not restrictions that take away freedom. Rather, they are bumpers so to speak that keep you moving in the right direction. Boundaries create a sense of freedom that empowers you to reach your fullest potential by living according to the principles, values and goals that you have set. Without boundaries, you have the potential to end up anywhere.

Keep REACHING FORWARD in your life, family and business by setting boundaries that will enable you to achieve much success!

Comments welcome!