Tag: Love (page 1 of 2)

Who asks you the tough questions?

What’s your greatest challenge?
How are you handling that conflict?
What keeps you up at night?
How’s your marriage?
What do you sense God doing in your life right now?

You could probably add a thousand more like these. When it comes to tough questions, you stop and ask, who asks me questions like these and do I ask people around me the same types?

Creating space for deeper conversation allows you to see God at work in the larger issues. For some of us, we live life swayed by the vapor of urgent matters. For others, our minds run through these questions without answering because no one asks them of us.

When I hear people share where they want to grow spiritually, they tend to list off reading the Bible, praying, serving, and other disciplines. Taking a next a step of growth is extremely valuable; but if you want to take your spiritual growth to the next level, it requires you to share with the people closest to you what you sense God doing in you.

Let me ask you – Who asks you the tough questions? Who in your life can help you see beyond the immediacy of today to the long term important issues? Or who has permission to ask questions to draw out what consumes your mind?

People asking us the tough questions invite us to see God at work. The Gospel, the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection, invites us to these conversations. These conversations allow us to see the truth of our own brokenness and the grace of God’s love for us. God speaks through the people in our lives asking the tough questions.

Photo produced by Cole Hutson

Bridge Building & Wall Building

Embrace your critics. You may have heard several iterations of this axiom from books, articles, and speakers. We desire to grow in how we interact with difficult people, our opposites, and even enemies. Then the conflict comes, or the blunt feedback hits us from them. Rather than looking to embrace, it seems easier to exclude.

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You and I have a choice when we come to these relationships, will we build bridges or walls?

No matter what the current best practice resources say, our natural tendency can desire to shut these people out of our lives or ready ourselves for an unhelpful argument. In the moment, we want to take revenge or find justice. Rarely does this help in the long run.

Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount says in Matthew 5:44, “…But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” You may have heard this verse a thousand times, but take a moment to consider it with fresh eyes.

The audience listening to Jesus’ teaching faced the injustice of the Roman government, especially taxation. In the previous verses, Jesus calls them not to retaliate and go the extra mile (Matt. 5:38-42). Not an easy task in the midst of mistreatment. Jesus called these people run against their natural tendency of building walls and build bridges towards other people.

Not only did Jesus teach this verse, but He lived it out. His death and resurrection provided us grace as a bridge to Him. That’s the Gospel, the Good News.

So when we face the critics, difficult people, and even enemies, how can we build bridges rather than following our natural tendency to build walls? Here are three ideas.

1. Wall building assumes the worst. Bridge building assumes the best.

Conflicts can result from us placing assumptions on other people. We think that they are out to get us, or they intentionally want to thwart us. At times, it can happen. Many times people have acted with positive intentions that they did not mean to affect us negatively. Looking to assume the best of a person allows us to see their perspective and then have a dialogue to share our perspective.

2. Wall building focuses on disagreements. Bridge building finds common ground.

People have different beliefs, convictions, and personalities. Before we go on in an argument, find the common ground. What areas can we agree? Starting from this place can encourage reconciliation and a mutual resolution.

3. Wall building pleads a case. Bridge building seeks personal blind spots.

When we plead our case, it becomes an us verse them. You and I will vent to others hoping they agree with us while continuing to increase the distance from the other person. Building bridges means asking, what do I not see about myself? We can begin to pray seeking God’s help see our motivations of our hearts.

You might find yourself in the midst of a challenging relationship. Consider the example Jesus and ask Him for wisdom. Find a trusted friend to help you recognize your blind spots.

What other ways can you build bridges instead of walls in your relationships?

Photo credit by Dan Gribbin.

Rough Edges

Certain relationships change us. These friends, family members, significant others, and coworkers cause us to have perspective. In a merciful way, they tell us the truth that few will while still encouraging us. By observing how they relate to us, we become better at relating to others. They help us smooth out our rough edges.

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The rough edges represent the areas of our lives that Christ’s grace has work to smooth. The times we want to get even rather than forgiveness. It becomes present at our stubbornness. In conversation, we try to win the argument as opposed to hearing what the other person.

Rough edges remind us of the tension we live in of the old self and new self. Seeing the characteristics of Christ in us; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, and self-control. Recognizing the work God still has to do in us.

So He brings people into our lives to speak the truth in love. Scripture invites to reflect on our hearts and actions. In the midst of prayer, taking the time to confess to God and even others those areas where we have fallen short.

My wife Robyn has become a person who has helped me smooth the rough edges in my life. Over the years, I have noticed the small transformations from her influence; moving from interrupting to listening, seeing conflicts from both sides, and responding with kindness rather than reacting in frustration.

Allowing God to smooth the rough edges means having more attentiveness to our lives. Seeing how people relate to us and observing how we handle challenges. Then His grace motivates us to change.

It feels like the tedious work of sanding or buffing. Gradually, our rough edges become the places where people experience Christ’s presence.

What rough edges in your life will God’s grace have to smooth? Who has God placed in your life to help you grow?

Photo credit by Mike Kenneally.

Reads of the Week | 02/13/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

Touchdown Jesus: Johnny Football’s Fall before the Altar of Icon by Valerie Dunham

The best article that you read about Johnny Manziel. Dunham phenomenally observes our cultural objectifying of athletes. She brings a fresh and redeeming perspective to this issue.

For All the “World-Changers” Now Driving a Minivan by Ashley Hales

I think many of us struggle with the view of our ordinary life compared to our dreams of changing the world. Read from Ashley Hales in this article:

Maybe vocation and calling is so much more than an equation to figure out. And maybe calling is big and vocation is small. Because calling is simple, but it’s fathoms deep. It’s borne out of knowing who I am—not the smart version, but simply the loved child of Jesus. My self-narrative is only this: I am the beloved child of God. He delights in me.

The Lord Is My Shepherd or Predator? by Knut H. Heim

We have memorized and repeated Psalm 23. Heim delves into the background of this famous passage and helps us contextualize it for the 21st Century.

Tweens’ take on Valentine’s Day: Get over yourselves, grown-ups by Petula Dvorak

What happens when a columnist asks tweens about love and Valentine’s Day? Dvorak fascinatingly looks into the perspective of 12-13-year-olds.

What Christians Forget about Work by Aaron Armstrong

Armstrong reflects on the redemptive aspect of work in our lives. It’s not something God meant for us to avoid, but a space where we can experience life in Him.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

What I’m Scared to Hear

I sat across from a friend at lunch. We reminisced about our college experience a few years prior. The conversation turned towards our growth since that chapter of our lives. In the midst of this conversation, he commented to me, “You listen better now than before. I remember how often you used to interrupt people…”

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My friend’s observation caught me off guard. I began to rewind our conversations. Each episode I played back in my mind pointed to a moment where I could have listened more intently. The truth of what he said scared me because I had to recognize an area of growth in my life. His comment also confirmed the truth about growth in my life.

The truth hurts. It sounds like a trite saying after someone gives a sharp piece of feedback. You and I want to grow, but listening to the reality about ourselves feels like root canal work: a necessary process with an enormous amount of pain.

If people could share the honest truth with you, what would they say?

That question can scare us. The truth can confirm a fault we always knew or make us aware of an area of growth we did not see. It can come out of a place of love from another person and at other times they say it out of their selfishness. For us to truly grow and mature, we have to learn to receive difficult feedback recognizing what we need to hear.

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend in How People Grow talks about the desire to accept the truth:

When people understand that the truth can save and preserve their lives, it is hard not to love it. When you love something, you pursue it and want to be around it. Seek God’s truth. Hang around honest people. Invite safe people to tell you the truth about yourself. Don’t take a passive role with truth: Hunt it down. Pray David’s prayer: “Send forth your light and your truth, let them guide me.” (Ps. 43:3)

Finding out the truth about us can scare us, but it brings us life. Community becomes essential. When we have friends who love and care for us, we can listen to the truth knowing they want the best for us.

Some people speak the truth without grace or knowing us. That can become more about them than you. The people that love us the most will give us the reality of where we can grow and how God has brought growth to us.

What my friend said at lunch scared, but confirmed growth in my life. God brings people in our lives who not only help us grow but point to His work in us. Thus, we can do the same for someone else.

What truth might God call you to face today? What truth might God call you to share with another motivated by love?

Photo credit by Alyssa Smith.

Chosenness and Love

How did you celebrate Valentine’s Day as a child? You may have had a mailbox where you received the delivery cards and candy. Notes got passed with the checkbox for the question, “Do you like me?” Schools would allow students to fundraise by selling roses and secret singing grams. A classroom anxiously anticipated the blushing, excitement, and embarrassment of classmates receiving these gifts.

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We learned at an early age about the joy and disappointment of Valentine’s Day. Some of us get the note with the checkbox “yes.” Others of us waited for the flower or love letter that never came. We might have taken courageous steps to show another our interest met with approval or rejection.

The week leading up to Valentine’s Day amplifies the human desire for acceptance, being chosen, and finding love. It can be an exhilarating celebration the loved ones around us. On the other hand, many struggle with the reality of pain. This day represents a hope for what could be, but a present that does not reflect that.

Learning to experience grace in following Jesus calls us to enter the darkness. Not necessarily for easy answers to our questions, but an even deeper recognition of Christ in us. Identifying the hurt and brokenness, while seeing the beauty in the midst of the reality.

Henri Nouwen in the Life of the Beloved makes a powerful statement finding the truth of God’s love in the midst of a world full of rejection, darkness, doubt, insecurity, and self-interest. He calls us to reclaim our chosenness from God:

The great spiritual battle begins – and never ends – with the reclaiming of our chosenness. Long before any human being saw us, we are seen by God’s loving eyes. Long before anyone heard us cry or laugh, we are heard by our God, who is all ears for us. Long before any person spoke to us in this world, we are spoken to by the voice of eternal love. Our preciousness, uniqueness, and individuality are not given to us by those who meet us in clock-time – our brief chronological existence – but by the One, who has chosen us with an everlasting love, a love that existed from all eternity and will last through all eternity.

The world around us this week will give us various definitions and expectations about experiencing love. Let us find the truth of our chosenness and acceptance from the One that loved us first. And in experiencing that love, we can then love the people around us. The Gospel time and time again reminds us that the truth of God’s love trumps the lies the world around us has told us.

Many of you have wanted to forget this week for various reason. I hope you have you can find your acceptance in a God who loves you and a friend with a listening ear that does not speak clichés or trite, simple answers.

Christ calls us out of our brokenness and in the healing we can become aware of the pain in others. Becoming aware of our pain leads us to help others to find healing in Christ.

May all of us communicate God’s chosenness and love to each other. In the midst of a highly commercialized holiday with seemingly fluctuating messages about love, I hope we speak the truth God’s love in us before anyone else loved us.

Photo credit by Hello Goodbye.

Reads of the Week | 02/06/2016

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Start your weekend with these five articles in the Reads of the Week.

Two Boats, One Gospel: Black History Month and the Church’s Witness by Esau McCaulley

February is Black History Month. McCaulley shares a compelling perspective on racial reconciliation with the grace and truth of the Gospel:

In the midst of my anger, Jesus has come and spoken words of peace. I now see that our destinies (black, white, Asian, Hispanic, Native-American) are united, caught up in the one story of the one people of God. America’s story is only important as a witness to the gospel’s power to bring beauty out of pain and estrangement.

Jesus Met Me Under a Table by Dr. Chuck DeGroat

We look for safe places. DeGroat speaks of how we can create safe places for people to heal and how Jesus does the same for us.

Fair Trade Sports by Zach Smith

This is an important article to re-read from the archives. Many of us will watch the Super Bowl on Sunday. Smith does an excellent job bringing to light the tension between the church and sports.

To Hope all Things about the American Voter by O. Alan Noble

In the midst of a political season, Noble calls us to love our neighbor even if we disagree with their vote. He provides a wonderful plea for political sober-mindedness.

Stop Being Over-Sensitive by Jade Mazarin 

Mazarin offers simple and practical advice for the many of us who can be over-sensitive. She encourages readers not take responsibility for other people’s actions.

What were your reads of the week? Share the links in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Roman Mager.

Gossiping and Processing

People will frustrate us. Some might even hurt us. Miscues and miscommunications happen on a regular basis with our family and friends. It occurs intentionally or unintentionally. When we experience disappointments in relationships, we need a space to speak our mind.

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Speaking our mind about our relationships has to do with not only what we say, but how and why we say it. The difference becomes a matter of gossiping or processing. The space where we talk about our disappointments and frustrations of others can either leave us in resentment or moves us to maturity.

Jesus in Luke 6:45 says, “A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.”

The writers of Scripture do not run from the pain we experience from others. Rather their insight concerns what happens in our hearts. They focus on not taking revenge, letting unforgiveness fester, and pursuing peace. Jesus calls us to look into our hearts to recognize the unhealthy patterns of how we see others when they disappoint us.

Talking about the conflicts in our relationship deals with our hearts. We can fall into the trap of gossiping of others in unhealthy ways or learn to process the situation healthily.

What’s the difference between gossiping and processing? Here are four indicators of having the right motivation for speaking our mind in the midst of relationship conflict:

They vs. I

Gossiping makes the problem about the “other person.” It speaks in the third person and assigns motives to actions without knowing all the facts. On the other hand, processing uses “I” statements. These statements give the other person the benefit of the doubt, but more importantly, help separate feeling from reality. It’s not that our feelings do not matter, but often they do not give us the whole picture.

Shifting from “They” to “I” begins to help us see our part in the problem rather than blaming the other person.

Quantity vs. Quality

Simply put, gossip looks to broadcast the problem to as many people as possible, quantity. Processing pursues quality relationships and conversations. Quality relationships includes people who will listen well, but will give us the truth about the other person and our role in the problem.

Campaigning vs. Feedback

Closely aligned to the last indicator, gossiping campaigns. We share our relational problems with several people for them to side with us rather than the other person. Gossiping builds a case with an audience.

Processing looks for feedback. After speaking our mind, we start asking the question, “Am I seeing this person and situation rightly?” Processing wants to pursue growth and maturity. Gossiping remains in the same place.

Winning vs. Reconciliation

Gossiping makes the goal of winning. How do win the relational disappointment? We take revenge on the other person by airing our grievances with multiple people. Sometimes we hold a grudge against them. Inside our hearts, we have held on to bitterness.

Processing pursues reconciliation. When we want to discuss our relational problems with a close friend, they help us see the road to forgiveness and Christ at work in us. They tell us where we have gone wrong and help us give grace to the person who hurts us.

This week, you might experience disappointments in relationships. How you handle it reveals Christ’s work in your heart. Start by asking God for forgiveness for the times you responded in the wrong ways and for the grace to respond healthily in the future. Then identify the people in your life who will listen to you process and will help you see the reality of yourself and the other person through Christ.

What other differences do you see between gossiping and processing? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Arnel Hasanovic.

4 Questions Towards Authenticity

Authenticity brings tension. This quality can become a license for a person to say whatever comes to their mind. In reality, saying whatever you want may never get to the heart of the issue. On the other hand, authenticity takes time. Some use that fact as a way of prolonging getting known by others. We walk a tightrope in a community of people of not enough and too much.

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In my role, I receive the regular feedback that goes like this, “My friends or group don’t go deep enough. We remain on the surface level.” The desire of realness wells deep within us but getting there means becoming vulnerable. You and I want the right people who will not shame us in our weaknesses, accepts us where we are and challenge us to grow. If we face this, how much more can we understand others in this process?

The Apostle Paul makes a radical statement in Ephesians 4:15, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

Paul places truth and love hand in hand. The previous verses of this section speak of the reality of Christ in us. Followers of Christ experience His grace in growing maturity. That means authenticity comes out of the motivation of love and expresses the truth for the benefits others. Two seemingly contrasting actions brought together by Christ at work in us.

In a healthy community, we create safety, not comfort. Safety looks to create an environment for people to get challenged, but they feel protected. Comfort esteems keeping the status quo. Authenticity becomes as much about what people say as we leave unsaid. Saying versus not saying comes out of the wisdom of safety, not the hope of comfort.

Craig Groeschel speaks about authenticity in regards to social media in #Struggle. What he says here about taking off the veil and experiencing authenticity can extend outside social media and apply to our relationships with each other:

So yes, we should remove our veils, and tell the truth. But social media is not the place to bare all! Be yourself, but don’t feel like you have to share everything you’re feeling. Being authentic is not about being brutally honest and confrontational about everything on your mind. But by all means – at the right time, with the right people, and when you’re face to face – drop the veil completely. If you don’t, you’ll always be longing for something more (pg. 81)

As you look to experience authenticity and depth in your community, I would offer four questions to start the discussion:

1. How do I process my life?

Process means understanding actuality. Some of us run from that, so we distract ourselves or even stifle ourselves. Other’s of us vent out the problems of our lives too much. This question starts with prayer. Beginning with prayer allows to slow down in quietness first. Then we can look to journal or even find helpful ways to get perspective. The heart of this question attempts to understand how we respond to the positives and negatives of life in regards to ourselves in others.

2. What needs to be said and when does it need to be said?

We can vacillate between sharing too much and not enough. This question gets the motivation of the what and when. Sometimes you and I need space for people to listen to our frustrations. Other times we need to process on our own first and then speak. It works the same with others. Often, people want us to listen first and talk later. God’s grace gives us the wisdom to see the perspective of another so that we can create safety and build authenticity.

3. Who do I have permission to speak the truth in love?

Relationships take intentional investment. A person has to know that we love them and want the best for them before we speak the difficult truths. If we need to say the challenging truth, we need permission from the person receiving it.

4. Who has permission in my life to speak the truth in love?

A question like this acts as a litmus test. Many of us have no problem speaking the truth, but we have a difficult time receiving it. Authenticity forms when people feel that you can accept the challenging truth. We model this for each other and build trust.

How have you experienced authenticity in community? Share in the comment section below.

Photo credit by Martin Wessely.

Your Life Will Never be the Same | Guest Post by Elaine Englert

During the week of Thanksgiving, you will have the opportunity to hear from five guest bloggers. They will be sharing about reflections related to the holiday season. Today’s guest post comes from Elaine Englert, my Mom. She and my Dad reside in Endicott, NY. You can find her teaching water aerobics at the YMCA and blogging for them at http://ymcabroome.org/blog/.  She’s the Mother of my brother, sister, and myself along with our spouses, most importantly the Grandma of my niece.

“Your life will never be the same!” Those words still ring as clearly in my ears as when I heard them in 1988. My six-year-old daughter’s oncologist’s eyes filled with compassion, as he described the pineapple-size tumor on her kidney, the treatment plan, and her future.
A few days later, I stood facing the hospital window to shield my daughter from the tears chasing down my cheeks. Way down on the sidewalk below, I saw people bustling about the ordinary events of their ordinary day on a sunny late April day.

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My ordinary days ended on Monday, a week and a half earlier in the pediatrician’s office. It was just a fever in a little girl who only once needed antibiotics. The doctor examined her and slipped out the room. He returned holding a stack of orders for the hospital across the street. When he pressed them in my hand, I saw “STAT” written on top and deep concern etched in his kind face. I held tight to Susan and took the last steps in the safety of the familiar. I tried to swallow dread as hard as a rock as we walked through the hospital doors. After hours of tests, someone told me they were admitting her. My husband rushed back from a trip and arrived soon after. Thursday evening I viewed the scans that gave the cancer a name, Wilms Tumor. The doctor sent Susan home the next morning and instructed us to have her at a hospital an hour away on Sunday afternoon to prepare for surgery on Monday.

Susan endured countless pokes and needle sticks during her 11-day stay. On the 10th day, Susan had her first round of chemotherapy. My confident little girl grew withdrawn and rarely spoke. Nothing in my 30 years prepared me to watch my child suffer so intensely and feel so helpless to help. When we got home, we returned to a daily routine, but 60 weeks of chemo cycles stole the ordinary. I was a wreck.

During this time, the Lord and I had many tear-filled conversations. I entrusted Susan and my fears into His care only to grab them back in the next crisis. Though I directed most of my anger at myself for missing a 4-pound tumor and for my spiritual shortcomings, one night I called God out as my daughter writhed in pain that could not be soothed, “I am her parent; as her parent how can You allow your little girl to suffer?”

The Lord waited for my honesty and brokenness to reveal His Father-heart for me. He called me to journal one gratitude daily, no matter how many difficulties filled those 24 hours. On the days I struggled to find anything, I often found the blessing in the ordinary. I scribbled down a word that my 23-month-old added to his vocabulary. I celebrated all five members of our family sitting around the dinner table. Other days, I journaled about His mercies when the doctor discovered Susan’s cancer. In only 10% of Wilms cases do patients run a fever like the one prompting me to make a doctor’s appointment. Susan’s surgery was delayed a few days because the surgeon was attending a conference on Wilms. We had people praying literally around the world for Susan. Friends, neighbors and church family, stepped in and met needs for food, rides, child-care. Our pastor called a day of fasting and prayer for Susan shortly after that sleepless night. From that day on, things improved for Susan.

The most enduring entries included verses others shared to encourage me or verses the Lord pointed out to me in my daily times with Him. They anchored my soul in the storm and revealed His desire for a relationship with me, his daughter. My life was never the same when I finally found rest in his “chesed,” the Hebrew word, often translated, as his steadfast love.
Psalm 107:28-29, 31 (ESV) best expresses my thanksgiving to Him:
“Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He made the storm be still….
Let them thank the Lord for his steadfast love….”

On an extraordinary day, this past March, nearly 27 years later, Susan married her beloved, Ben. Tears of joy chased down the cheeks of many…mine mixed with tears of gratitude to my Father.

Photo credit by Alex Jones

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