Get Outside Your Circle

miami_package_feelthehealdetoxIt’s a bit easier to perpetuate the cause and effects of hurt when you hang out with a group that isolates itself and allows the hurt to multiply. We all need reality checks, and we don’t get them from the people closest to us if they’re not willing or able to shine a revealing light on the truth of a situation. We connect with people because we have things in common with them, so we affirm one another. However, when the affirmation becomes a crutch and pulls a blinding shade over accountability, we’re in trouble.

We need to choose friends who love us just the way we are yet aren’t content to leave us there—just like God. Affirmation is great as long as it’s biblical. However, our circles of friends—even in churches—can become gossip fests. Once the can of gossip is opened, it’s incredibly difficult to secure the lid on it, but the effort is worth it. We do a lot of damage spreading hearsay or gathering breakneck momentum based on our opinions instead of factually-based information and biblical truth. When our small groups of friends or Bible study groups begin to share opinions and gain momentum of what we think is happening or should happen with an individual or the church as a whole, it’s not long before we take the small leap that rationalizes we’re being “led by God.” Just because we’re a group of Bible-believing church folks who come to a consensus doesn’t mean our conclusion is God-directed. Were biblical principles followed throughout the process of coming to the conclusion, or was there misguided rationale, misinformation, and inappropriate sharing? You cannot reach a Spirit-led result with a man-led process.

There are many boundaries drawn between the “us” and “them” in churches. It can be old versus young or paid staff versus volunteer staff. It can be “old-timers” versus new members or regular attenders versus members. The division of groups is often perpetuated by assumptions. Because we tend to hang out with people most like ourselves, we quickly make assumptions about other groups as well as about what those groups must think about us. It isn’t long before we feel slighted, justified, or entitled, and the space between the groups widen.

The way to build a bridge between groups is to get to know individuals in other groups. It takes effort, because we have to reach across the aisle to approach the very people we have some unflattering assumptions about. We might find some aspects of the assumptions to be true, but we’ll likely find many more exceptions if we open our eyes and hearts widely enough to recognize and acknowledge them. If each person in your circle of camaraderie gets to know three people in one of “the other” circles, how many assumptions would be proven right and how many would be shaken or shattered? It’s worth a try to find out. Test the all or nothing perspective.

When you do things, do not let selfishness or pride be your guide. Instead, be humble and give more honor to others than to yourselves. (Philippians 2:3)

God’s family is certainly not exempt from hurt, including the hurts that come from within. People in churches are just as vulnerable to unjustly criticize, gossip, neglect, and offend one another as anyone else. It’s true that God sets us apart to reflect his image to the world, but to believe Christ-followers are perfect representations of Jesus will, to say the least, lead to disappointment. What (should) set Christ-followers apart from the world is how they deal with one another to heal the hurt. Will they do the hard work it takes to unite or will they further divide into quarreling, backbiting, judgmental factions? Which will you choose? Healing the Hurt , is PurePurpose.org’s current series to help hurting communities cope in biblical ways.

Finding Support Where You Doubt It

parentsYou spend years trying to get your parents off your back only to realize they’re the only ones whoever really had your back.

I sighed as I read it, because it rang true for me. And it’s not just about my parents but also about me as a parent. I’m a “tweener.” I’m in the middle of being parented and parenting others. I’ve been on the giving and receiving end of the “get off my back” attitude. Although truth-be-told, I really can’t complain about either the relationship I’ve had with my parents over the years or the relationships I’ve had with my girls.

There’s really no reason to point out that our relationships haven’t been perfect, because we all know that no relationships are “perfect.” In fact, do we really even know what that word means? Trouble-free isn’t perfect; it’s delusional. Conflict-free isn’t perfect; it’s unhealthy. We need struggles to grow. The struggle in and of itself isn’t an issue; the way we deal with and move through the struggle is what makes a difference in our relationships.

But do we really need to struggle with the people we love the most? I mean, my parents would have done absolutely anything for me if they thought it would be helpful in the long-run, and I would do the same for my daughters. Do we have to push each other away in the process?

Yes.

How can we ever find the wings to fly without flapping them in the faces of those closest to us? We’re awkward as we learn to fly. We squirm, stagger, trip…and in the process, we bump and bruise others, especially those closest to us. Sometimes it’s by accident. It’s just the consequence of our struggles. But sometimes we “accidentally on purpose” push a bit harder than is necessary. And we usually know just where to push to hurt the most.

Whose buttons are you pushing?

Perhaps it’s not a family member at all. It’s a co-worker, friend, volunteer, leader. Are you bruising someone because he or she has bruised you in the past? Or perhaps the specific person just reminds you of someone who has bruised you in the past. He or she is an easy target for the treatment you can’t give the person directly responsible, either because you don’t have the opportunity or because you’re just not willing to be that direct.

Is your pushing because of a natural need to spread your wings and grow, or is it because of a desire to “accidentally on purpose” (or one or the other) bump into someone?

If it’s not about growth, stop. Check your motivation. It’s not just the someone else you are bruising. You’re exhausting yourself and could get hurt in the process. You’re expending energy on something that doesn’t need your time and attention yet taking away energy and time from something that does. And you might be hurting one of your best allies in the process.

Yes, it seems that others are against you at times. It feels as if someone is rubbing your face in the mud. I’ve been there, too. But…are you sure that’s what’s going on? Or are you floundering on the ground for no reason? Are you judging someone else based on assumed intentions? Intentions and actions are two different things, and assumed intentions are often mis-assumed.

The very people you think are against you might walk alongside you—if not to support you, at least not to antagonize you—if you don’t quickly assume they’re against you. What’s the worst that could happen? You realize they’re against you after all? Well, you already think that’s where you (and they) are, so you won’t be surprised…but just because you don’t like what someone is doing doesn’t mean they’re against you. It might be that they want the most for you and are in pain watching you go through what you’re going through. Even though it doesn’t feel as if they’re helping, they are. You need to step back and give them the space to do it.

As iron sharpens iron, so people can improve each other. (Proverbs 27:17)

Rooftop Friends

rooftopOne day as Jesus was teaching the people, the Pharisees and teachers of the law from every town in Galilee and Judea and from Jerusalem were there. The Lord was giving Jesus the power to heal people. Just then, some men were carrying on a mat a man who was paralyzed. They tried to bring him in and put him down before Jesus. But because there were so many people there, they could not find a way in. So they went up on the roof and lowered the man on his mat through the ceiling into the middle of the crowd right before Jesus. Seeing their faith, Jesus said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.” (Luke 5:17-20)

Do you have friends like the paralyzed man?

They went to a lot of trouble. Not only were they working together to carry him on a mat (instead of one or two people scooping him up) but they weren’t easily deterred. They were persistent in getting to Jesus. When they couldn’t push through the crowd, they looked for another access point: the roof. It wouldn’t have been an easy task to get a man on a mat onto and through the roof, but they worked together and got it done.

Who will carry you as a burden?

This man could do nothing to help. He couldn’t make himself weigh less. He couldn’t limp along, sharing only part of his weight. If they had put him down, he couldn’t have proceeded unassisted. He was completely dependent on them.

Do you try to help others help you, or are you willing to let someone fully carry you through a situation or season?

Jesus noticed “their faith.” He saw compassion in their little community. He noticed mercy in their relationship. He knew that it came from a faith in him so intense that they weren’t willing to stop. They pursued him even if it meant going through the roof to reach him.

Who are your rooftop friends?

We’re often willing to be the kind of friend who does the lifting. We’re willing to help. We’ll sacrifice for others. But are we willing to sacrifice our pride to accept the same kind of help? Are we fostering relationships that invite us to humility, accepting and trusting the sacrificial help of others?

Friends come and go through seasons of our lives, so sometimes we’re in the process of letting go of friendships while we’re in the early phase of planting seeds in other friendships. But we should always be cultivating. We might not know who is going to be in the group of rooftop friends when we need them, but we always need to be intentional in not only investing in others but also letting them invest in us.

(And for my rooftop friends, I’m sending you a huge thank you! I couldn’t get anywhere without your sacrificial support!)

God’s Social Network

What do you “like” on Facebook?

I recently noticed someone promoting her recently created fan page with the promise, “I’ll like you if you like me!”

Perhaps she was trying to be funny, but I have to admit my first thought was, “I’m glad God’s ‘like’ isn’t so conditional!”

And then there are the posts people throw into the social networking sphere and leave those who respond wondering if the posts were made by a person. Despite follow up questions and comments, the person who originally posts doesn’t respond. It reminds me of playing softball or kickball as a child when there weren’t enough available people to make teams, so people repeatedly batted and left “ghost men” on bases to be forced around the diamond by subsequent batters. Someone posts a question or comment for their friends to read and then declare “Ghost man on Facebook!” In other words, you can respond, but I won’t acknowledge it. You’re talking to deaf ears.

I’m glad God isn’t silent. There’s no “Ghost god in heaven!”

Social networking might be frustrating at times, but it’s only because we’re networking with other people. Relationships and communications are challenging.

Our relationship and communication with God is different. We can gather a few social networking tips from God.

  1. Gather friends. Some you’ll invest in for many years. Some will be brief acquaintances. But we need each other. We were created for community.  A friend loves you all the time,   and a brother helps in time of trouble. (Proverbs 17:17)
  2. Intentionally engage. God’s will for you is not to live in a protective cocoon. You need to connect with others in ways that make a difference in your faith and the faith of others. Pray, serve, and encourage. Let us think about each other and help each other to show love and do good deeds. You should not stay away from the church meetings, as some are doing, but you should meet together and encourage each other. (Hebrews 10:24-25)
  3. Be yourself. God created you in his image, and he created you to be unique. Don’t cheat or deceive him or yourself by trying to portray yourself as less or more than you are. You made my whole being;  you formed me in my mother’s body. (Psalm 139:13)
  4. Be positive and truthful. Hold yourself to God’s standards. Refrain by letting any other standard determine how you respond. Speaking the truth with love, we will grow up in every way into Christ, who is the head. (Ephesians 4:15)

You might be heavily involved in social networking. You might be avoiding it for a variety of reasons. Whatever your choice and wherever you’re connecting, let God be your guide. Reflect him in all connections. Let his ways guide your ways.

We know that in everything God works for the good of those who love him. They are the people he called, because that was his plan.  God knew them before he made the world, and he chose them to be like his Son so that Jesus would be the firstborn of many brothers and sisters. (Romans 8:28-29)

The Impact on Faith

Every decision impacts my faith. Every situation and relationship impacts my faith.

It might sound overly dramatic, but it’s true. Everything either draws me closer to or distances me from God. At the very least, I stay put, which means I’m not growing. I want to grow. I want my faith to strengthen.

Even when my faith is strengthening, I can be in vulnerable situations. Doing pull-ups strengthens my arms but leaves me vulnerable to the playground ball being kicked by nearby kids. Rock-climbing strengthens my arms and legs but leaves me vulnerable to falls. Resistance bands build my muscles but can harm me if they snap. Strength and vulnerability go hand-in-hand because the process of building strength exposes me to injury.

Being vulnerable isn’t sufficient reason to avoid building strength.

God wants to strengthen my faith. He wants me to be vulnerable through the process, because the vulnerability allows him to work within me. Becoming vulnerable is a process of trust.

However, we must recognize that our faith is often vulnerable as we’re building strength. We can become so focused on the strength-building that we neglect safety precautions.

We must always be discerning. Just because we’re in a Bible study, worship service, or Christian conference doesn’t assume everything we’re reading, hearing, and learning is biblically-based. We’re strengthening our faith by our involvement in such groups and events, but let’s not ignore warning signs the Holy Spirit is giving us to caution us to discern between what is God’s truth and what is not.

Just because our friends or family members profess to be faithful Christ-followers doesn’t mean they will always provide us with godly advice. They’re human and will make mistakes just as we will. It’s not their responsibility to make our choices for us. They certainly can help us by pointing us toward God’s truth, but we are still personally responsible for the decisions we make and paths we take.

Consider David’s cries and praises in Psalm 22. Look for vulnerabilities and strength. He experiences both and knows the source of both. Do you?

My God, my God, why have you abandoned me? You seem far from saving me, far away from my groans. My God, I call to you during the day, but you do not answer. I call at night; I am not silent. You sit as the Holy One. The praises of Israel are your throne. Our ancestors trusted you; they trusted, and you saved them. They called to you for help and were rescued. They trusted you and were not disappointed. But I am like a worm instead of a man. People make fun of me and hate me. Those who look at me laugh.  They stick out their tongues and shake their heads. They say, “Turn to the Lord for help. Maybe he will save you. If he likes you, maybe he will rescue you.” You had my mother give birth to me. You made me trust you while I was just a baby. I have leaned on you since the day I was born; you have been my God since my mother gave me birth. So don’t be far away from me. Now trouble is near, and there is no one to help. People have surrounded me like angry bulls. Like the strong bulls of Bashan, they are on every side. Like hungry, roaring lions they open their mouths at me. My strength is gone, like water poured out onto the ground, and my bones are out of joint. My heart is like wax; it has melted inside me. My strength has dried up like a clay pot, and my tongue sticks to the top of my mouth. You laid me in the dust of death. Evil people have surrounded me; like dogs they have trapped me. They have bitten my arms and legs. I can count all my bones; people look and stare at me. They divided my clothes among them, and they threw lots for my clothing. But, Lord, don’t be far away. You are my strength; hurry to help me. Save me from the sword; save my life from the dogs. Rescue me from the lion’s mouth; save me from the horns of the bulls. Then I will tell my brothers and sisters about you; I will praise you in the public meeting. Praise the Lord, all you who respect him.  All you descendants of Jacob, honor him; fear him, all you Israelites. He does not ignore those in trouble. He doesn’t hide from them but listens when they call out to him. Lord, I praise you in the great meeting of your people; these worshipers will see me do what I promised. Poor people will eat until they are full; those who look to the Lord will praise him. May your hearts live forever! People everywhere will remember and will turn to the Lord. All the families of the nations will worship him because the Lord is King, and he rules the nations. All the powerful people on earth will eat and worship. Everyone will bow down to him, all who will one day die. The people in the future will serve him; they will always be told about the Lord. They will tell that he does what is right. People who are not yet born  will hear what God has done.

50 Years of Marriage

My parents aren’t perfect. They’d be the first to admit it. There were times in my life I certainly thought “less than perfect” was an understatement, but those days are gone. My parents have done a lot of things well, and today, on their 50th wedding anniversary, I want to celebrate a few.

My parents are authentic. What you see is what you get.

My parents are giving. They’d help just about anyone they could.

My parents are relational. Those who know my dad will chuckle at this one. It’s definitely an understatement. I’m not sure he knows what a stranger is. My parents have developed some phenomenal friendships over the years, and I know they’ve been a blessing to many. For the record, hearing my parents share about their friends, they feel equally as blessed.

My parents invest. I’ve watched my dad work alongside young men, and I know a group of young women (okay, so they’re my age) with whom my mom worked for several years who love being around her. Making a difference in people’s lives is important to my parents. They see opportunities instead of inconveniences.

My parents parent well. One of the things I respect most about my parents is their willingness to let me and their other children be adults. It seems obvious to let adult children be adults, but it’s easier said than done. They’ve never tried to interfere with issues I’ve had (even though I’m sure at times they certainly want to shake me and tell me how to straighten myself and my life out). They advice without demanding. They consult when asked, don’t protect from consequences, and don’t say “I told you so.”

My parents enjoy life. My dad recently said, “We’ve nearly reached 50 years of marriage, and we’ve laughed just about every single day.” Not many people can say that. My dad’s sense of humor is a bit odd. He certainly enjoys his own jokes and is probably one of the goofiest people I know. I rolled my eyes at his antics at times, but now I actually find the same antics as endearing. My mom chastises my dad for his goofiness, but she laughs, too. They find humor in the strangest situations, but the laughter they experience alongside each other has carried them through dark days and made good days great days.

My parents aren’t done living. When they retired several years ago, they shifted into another gear instead of sitting back and letting time pass.  Mom began volunteering at the elementary school to help young students who struggle to read. Dad took on many projects with friends and at home. They started walking together regularly. They took trips, visited friends and family, and helped neighbors. They live each today as fully as they can.

My parents inspire me. Not because I want to be just like them. Not because they’re perfect. They inspire me because I believe they are the best people they can be.

Of course, my opinion is a bit biased, but I’m obviously okay with sharing it with you. I want to honor my parents on their 50th wedding anniversary. And I challenge you to honor someone in your life today. Avoid empty compliments. Think of the people who really inspire you – not because they try to be perfect or have all the pieces in life neatly put together, but because they are who they are, fully experiencing and growing with each passing day. Share how someone has impacted your life, and let the impact create ripple effects through your life into others’ lives.

Guarded Aerobics

I recently blogged about the (dis)comforts of home, the things we don’t necessarily like when we’re at home but we might miss when travelling. Travelling can be an odd experience. When the novelty of it wears off, a quest for balance begins to surface. On the one hand, new experiences and adventure keep travelling interesting. Even when a seasoned traveller is confused as to where he is, as each airport, hotel, and conference center blends into the next, there are intriguing and energizing experiences of watching, meeting, and listening to people that never seem to grow stale. There’s beauty in the changing landscapes and architectures. There are challenges of finding directions and getting orientated to new home-away-from-homes.

On the other hand, there’s a quest for sameness. Finding a favorite coffee shop. Arranging clothes or an office-away-from-office in the hotel room. A schedule of travel rarely reflects the average schedule near home, so finding a few common threads helps maintain some continuity and familiarity. For me, that includes exercise.

It would be easy to avoid exercise when travelling. Finding a suitable place to work out is often a challenge. Finding a suitable time to work out is often more of a challenge, especially during a busy convention schedule. To work out in the morning requires an unreasonably early wake-up call because of the time it takes to work out then shower and get ready for morning sessions. Late night sessions aren’t ideal because there’s little energy at the end of the day, but late night workouts might also spur enough energy to keep me awake. However, I’ve found delayed sleep doesn’t matter much anyway, since I’m usually waiting for complete exhaustion to set it, so I fall to sleep with a dulled realization I’m not falling asleep next to my husband.

So, I often opt for the late night option. And I’m rarely sorry for the sacrifice. No matter how tired I am, I feel better knowing I’ve expended energy other than walking from room to room throughout the event venue.

Another challenge often presents itself with late night workouts: location. Why large hotels don’t keep fitness rooms open late I don’t know, but I’m obviously not going to go outside for a strange-city-in-the-dark tour. And that’s why I’ve gotten into the habit of travelling with an exercise DVD.

So when a group of women were standing around the first evening of the conference, lamenting about not being able to work out when we were done for the night because the fitness room would be closed, I offered my DVD. Next problem: There’s barely room in a hotel room for me to do aerobics, so we needed an alternate location. Because there were several of us, we’d also need a TV, because we wouldn’t be able to see the laptop screen well.

Aha! One of the displays right outside the conference ballroom had a TV and a DVD player. Perfect! Of course, that meant we’d be in a major hallway while working out, but since it was late at night, who would notice?

Um…the security guard!

It was actually quite comical. He was a nice guy and will likely find his way into a future blog or two. He’s probably seen much more interesting things during his late night shifts!

The bottom line is we got to exercise, and we felt much better. Plus, we got to work out side by side each other, which makes it a bit more fun. It’s funny: We set aside the reality of working out in a very public area, because establishing some sort of routine to our day took priority.

We might need to find some adventure among the regularity of daily life, but we also seek regularity among the adventure of life.

Consider what habits bore you and make you long for adventure.

Consider what habits keep you grounded. What will you try to incorporate into your daily life even when you’re outside your norm?

We do not enjoy being disciplined. It is painful at the time, but later, after we have learned from it, we have peace, because we start living in the right way. Hebrews 12:11