Archives For Relationships

Family Stuff

Tim Jackson —  August 27, 2013 — 1 Comment
Piles of stuff-M640

From Creative Commons by Lara604

Every family has stuff. And by that I don’t mean the stuff we’ve all piled up in our basements, garages, spare rooms, attics, and storage sheds. Not the stuff we’ve accumulated, stashed, or just couldn’t bring ourselves to throw away along the way (perhaps someday I’ll tackle that topic in a later blog), but the stuff that has affected and shaped us, for good or bad, into who we are.

Every family has stuff. Family stuff. The stuff we’ve all accumulated along the way with shared experiences, memories, and relationships that have produced lessons learned, patterns established, habits ingrained, and themes forged into our lives that often go undetected until many years later when the “unpacking” or “processing” of our stuff commences.

We often try to hide our stuff because it can be a devastating source of shame, regret, sorrow, or pain if exposed. It’s things like moral failures, foolish choices, family squabbles, financial ruin, or a pattern of failed relationships that we’d simply like to ignore, hoping no one will give it a second glance. After all, nobody likes the interrogating glare of the spotlight when the sight, sound, or smell of something unhealthy is unearthed. There’s also the stuff we’re unaware of but that’s glaringly apparent to just about everyone within a 10-mile radius.

While our tendency is to hide our negative stuff, God has other plans. In the infinite wisdom and providence of God, He has been using all our “family stuff” to shape, mold, and bring about transformation in us. That’s the reassurance of Paul’s words in Roman 8:28-29. “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose . . . to be conformed to the likeness of his Son.” Paul had stuff too. But he knew all the stuff in his life was being used by God to somehow bring about His greater purposes in and through Paul.

Having this perspective allows us to see and appreciate the good stuff too. Not all the patterns, habits, and themes in our family are negative. There are also a lot of positives, like a solid work ethic, an ability to laugh at adversity, an inherited creative talent, a commitment to integrity and honor that may have marked your family for generations. To throw out all the stuff means we’ll miss out on celebrating with gratefulness the good stuff that is masterfully woven into the fabric of our stories.

So lets make a commitment together: No more pretending. We all have stuff. I do. You do. It’s time to be honest about our stuff—both the good and the bad. Some of that won’t be easy. But when we turn our stuff, all of our stuff, over to God, He will bring joy to us and glory to Himself.

 

Practice Kindness

Tim Jackson —  June 18, 2013 — Leave a comment

I’m constantly stunned by how inconsiderate and selfish people are becoming. Rudeness seems to be the new epidemic in human interactions. What’s equally disturbing is that everyone seems to accept it. We’ve come to expect unkindness as the new norm.

People don’t look each other in the eye either. Frankly, it’s much easier to be rude to someone you don’t bother looking at. Why? Well, if you see a person, I mean really see him or her as another person who is a living, breathing reflection of the invisible God, it’s much more difficult to be dismissive. If you keep it impersonal, you can remain aloof and maintain your “whatever,” “it-is-what-it-is” attitude as you walk right by focused on doing your own thing and not caring about anyone else. It’s this intentional refusal to connect that allows you to view others as just another something in your way instead of someone you just walked on to get where you wanted to go.

Recently, I overheard a caller on a local radio station bragging about her vanity license plate that reads ALLABOUTME. She was proud to say that when a questioning driver pulled up next to her at a signal light and inquired through the car window, “Is that really true?” her response was “H*ll yea!” And frankly, she’s not alone.

When it’s all about us, we don’t have time to be kind. Honestly, we don’t even notice opportunities to be kind. It simply does not cross our minds, revealing that for most of us, it really is all about us. Ugh!

And that’s why the call to kindness in the Bible is so counter to the way we think as individuals and how we live together as a society.

In what many have come to see as the greatest description of 5026716018_80b8b4af2e_zlove ever written, Paul penned “love is kind” (1 Cor. 13:4). Kindness is the byproduct of love. Listen as he describes the characteristics of a loving heart:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails (1 Cor. 13:4-8).

How much different would our world be right now, today, if we simply practiced kindness? What would happen if we started looking people in the eye and treating them with kindness, like they really mattered? Would the whole world change? Probably not. But I can certainly tell you that at least two lives would be changed: Yours and the recipient of your kindness.

Kindness Street SignaAnd if enough of us practice kindness regularly, who knows what might happen. A new epidemic of kindness? I sure hope so.

So here’s my challenge: Practice kindness.

Be intentional about being kind. And then post your stories of sharing kindness and how it’s changing you. But also share the responses from those on the receiving end of your kindness.

I’m in. Are you?

 

 

One of the great gifts my father gave to me was the ability to tell stories. One of my preferred pastimes as a boy was to sit and listen to Dad tell stories about his childhood. One of my favorite involved my grandmother and her prayer closet.

Dad, according to his recollection, was about 10 years old when my grandfather (Poppawe Damon) took him and his two younger siblings, Joe and Eileen, out to mend a fence that was about 200 yards behind their house.

As they worked my grandfather suddenly stopped what he was doing and looked back toward the house. Poppawe’s sudden lack of activity caught the attention of the kids, and he answered their unspoken question with a simple, “Listen.”

As they stood there in near silence, the kids began to hear what he had heard. In the distance, they made out a single voice. It was hushed but earnest; tender and pleading.

It did not take the kids long to figure out who was talking. It was their mother. And it didn’t take them long to figure out who she was talking to—God. The longer Momawe prayed, the louder she became.

Dad still remembers standing there at the edge of the woods listening to his mother pray. He remembers the intensity and passion in her prayer. He remembers hearing her pray for him, Joe, and Eileen. He remembers her crying with joy at the presence of her Lord as Jesus met her in the midst of her worship and petition. He remembers Poppawe telling them that Momawe was in the closet, where she went to meet with God (Matthew 6:5-6).

I heard this story many times while I was growing up. And while the actual event took place nearly 20 years before I was born, I still sense the reverence of that moment.

Dad was given a great gift that day. He was able to hear how his mother prayed when she thought no one was listening.

Christian prayer in its most intimate form is like that. It is an intimate conversation. It’s raw but beautiful. It is not ritualistic and measured but relational and empowered. It’s saying what you would say when you think no one but God is listening.

If you have a desire to grow and be strengthened in your prayer life please join us for a live webinar event, “Prayer: What It Is, What It Isn’t, and Why It Matters”.

https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/6822142345903290368

Register soon; space is limited. Hope to see you there!

Everyday Compassion

Jeff Olson —  April 29, 2013 — Leave a comment

boston-marathon-explosionNo one in the crowd near the finish line of the 2013 Boston Marathon could have predicted the horrible bombings that took place last week.

At first, the explosions sent people scattering and ducking for cover. But almost as quickly as it happened, people started rushing back to the sight of the explosions to help the injured.

It was an amazing thing to witness—strangers, mostly, selflessly rushing in to do whatever they could for their fellowman in dire need.

We’ve seen this before at the sight of other tragedies, natural and man-made. In the past week, my hometown experienced historic flooding. And once again, strangers from the surrounding areas showed up to unselfishly help strangers.

In the face of great tragedy, the courageous urge to jump in and help rises up—as it should. But what about everyday life? Does the urge to help others rise up in us there?

It may not be as dramatic, but we can be just as compassionate in our everyday relationships as we seek (with the Spirit’s help) to imitate the other-minded attitude of Christ that the apostle Paul admonished his readers to adopt: “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others” (Philippians 2:3-4).

May the courageous compassion that shines through in tragedy inspire us to be looking out for the interest of others every day.

Reactions vs. Responses

Tim Jackson —  March 20, 2013 — 2 Comments

Do you ever struggle with how or why you handle situations in relationships the way that you do? I know I do. I often find myself reacting with a level of intensity to a particular situation in the office or at home in ways that, frankly, I find disturbing. It makes me back up and question what’s really going on inside of me. And that’s not all bad.

We need to pay attention to what’s going on inside of us because it helps us better understand why we do what we do. The sorting process is messy to say the least. It’s often convoluted and not nearly as definitive as I’d like. But isn’t that how most of life is—messier than we ever expected it to be?

So at the risk of sounding reductionistic or overly simplistic (I hope that’s not the case), here’s what I’ve observed in myself and in others that has been helpful. I look at how I tend to handle things with these two categories in mind: reactions vs. responses.

Reactions are more often than not my emotional reflex to a particular situation. My reactions can range anywhere from wildly excited and exuberant celebrations over good events to clenched-teeth, tight-lipped anger when things don’t go my way—and everything in between.

Reactions don’t feel like choices. They’re just there, such as when I flinch or reflexively tense up when I think I’m going to get hit. If something comes flying at my face, my reaction is to blink. I don’t think about it. I just do it. It’s a natural (and sometimes learned) self-protective reaction to a perceived threat.

Reaction is often used in the field of chemistry to describe what happens when certain chemical compounds are mixed together in specific proportions. The result is a chemical reaction. And while our emotions do stir chemicals within us, our reactions are not merely reduced to chemical responses within the body. The soul—the immaterial part that mysteriously makes us us—is involved in how we react to situations we face.

Responses, on the other hand, are more conviction- or belief-driven ways we handle relationships. It’s not that they are devoid of emotions, but that they are not driven solely by feelings. More reasoning takes place so that it’s a measured and thoughtful response to either positive or negative circumstances.

First response teams are a good example of responding vs. reacting. Response teams undergo training so that they are equipped to efficiently handle stressful emergency situations when needed. First responders follow predetermined protocol and strategies to maximize effectiveness under difficult situations where others tend to freeze up because of the emotions they feel.

Now don’t get me wrong. First responders do have emotions. They feel a lot, but they are driven by their training and protocols. They’ve been trained to set aside their emotions until after the threatening situation has been stabilized.

The apostle Paul reminds us that what we think about ahead of time—things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable—will shape how we handle relationships: “Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9, emphasis added).

So when it comes to relationships and evaluating how you’ll respond when challenging situations arise (and you know they will), ask yourself these questions: “Am I responding or am I reacting? Are my emotions driving my reaction to a particular individual or event I perceive as threatening, or are my beliefs driving my response?”

We’ll never be able to discern whether we’re reacting or responding to situations unless we start paying attention to what’s going on inside us. So that’s my challenge to you. Are you in? Let me know what you discover about yourself and what you found helpful.

When I’m talking with someone who has been deeply betrayed by a friend, a family member, or a coworker, they often ask, “How can I ever trust him again? He said he was sorry, but how do I know if he is truly sorry about the damage he’s done or if he’s just sorry he got caught? I don’t want to get burned again.”

Those are tough questions, because there’s a lot at stake for both the betrayer and the betrayed.

Rebuilding trust in a relationship after a bitter betrayal almost feels like an insurmountable task. No one in his right mind would dare trust a spouse who was unfaithful, a coworker who stole his good idea, or a friend who lied about him behind his back. Would you?

But what if that person apologizes? Then what? How can you know if someone has truly repented?

As Jesus’ followers, we talk about repentance—that radical change of heart and mind that alters one’s perspective and reshapes behavior patterns to look more like Jesus.  It’s been a part of the Jesus story from the beginning. John the Baptist referred to it as “producing fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matt. 3:8; Luke 3:8).

Testing repentance is vital to rebuilding trust in a broken relationship. So what are some of the signs of a repentant heart?

King David—a man whose deceit betrayed his wife and his nation—said it best: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, You will not despise” (Ps. 51:17).

One place to begin looking for “fruit” that reveals a deeply rooted heart of repentance is in how the repentant betrayer responds when questioned. A repentant person demonstrates a humble attitude that is neither demanding nor defensive when questioned. There is an openness that replaces deceit, a willingness to be accountable for his or her actions on multiple levels without resorting to blaming others or making excuses for failures.

It’s only through experiencing a consistency in both attitudes and actions that reflect repentance that the betrayed individual will over time begin to take the risky steps towards trusting again.

How much time? As much as it takes.

And the repentant person will humbly wait for as long as it takes, knowing that the celebration over restoration will be a sweet harvest for both parties—a harvest that repentance and forgiveness has made possible because of Jesus’ example.

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10).

October Baby

Jeff Olson —  January 31, 2013 — Leave a comment

Over the weekend I watched the film October Baby. It tells the story of a college-aged girl named Hannah whose world is turned upside down after she discovers she is the adopted survivor of a failed abortion.

This story about a girl whose life almost wasn’t is a powerful film on forgiveness. Hannah had to wrestle through strong bitter feelings and forgive several people before she could move on with her life.

The film’s grace-filled, non-condemning treatment of Hannah’s biological mother, who had attempted to abort her, was also a surprising breath of fresh air. Women who suffer the heartache of having had an abortion may find watching this film to be a very healing experience.

Something Hannah’s adoptive dad shared with her near the end of the movie also stuck with me. Hannah’s discovery and search for her birth mother caused a lot of tension between the two of them, which he often didn’t handle well. As they stood next to each other at the graveside of the twin brother Hannah never knew she had, her dad confessed,

“It’s not that I don’t trust you. It’s that I’m trying honestly to learn to trust God again.”

Leaving things we care about in God’s capable and loving hands is a most important lesson for us all to learn.

The major sports story this past week wasn’t what was accomplished on the field of play but what went on behind the scenes in the life of the man who was until recently renowned as the greatest competitive cyclist of all time—Lance Armstrong.

In his exclusive interview with Oprah Winfrey, Lance finally admitted what many have suspected and some have know for the last 14 years—that the 7-time Tour de France champion used performance-enhancing drugs and blood doping throughout his cycling career to gain an edge over his opponents.

As he described it, his “ruthless desire to win at all costs” drove him to brazenly lie about his use of banned substances for over a decade. His deep fear of losing propelled him to do whatever he thought it would take to win.

Losing was never an option for Lance. And that gets dangerous, not only for him, but for all of us who have drank from the winning-is-the-only-thing well.

When I watched Lance’s interview, what flashed through my mind was the scene from Cool Runnings, the 1993 Disney film about the Jamaican bobsled team at the Olympics. Irv, played by John Candy, was a former U.S. Olympic champion in the four-man bobsled event. He’d been stripped of his two gold metals and banned from competing in the sport ever again for cheating in his last competition by placing weights in the front of the sled.

Derice Bannock, the driver of the Jamaician team that Irv was coaching, asked him why he cheated and this was Irv’s response: ”It’s a fair question. It’s quite simple, really. I had to win. You see, Derice, I had made winning my whole life, and when you make winning your whole life, you have to keep on winning, no matter what. Understand?”

Derice: “No, I don’t understand. You won two gold medals. You had it all.”

Irv: “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it”

When winning is everything, you’ll stop at nothing.

If we lose ourselves in winning at any price, we truly lose ourselves. We become less than who we were made to be. We fail to recognize that we are more than our accomplishments, more than our net worth, more than where we live or what we drive or what we wear.

Henri Nouwen writes in his book Bread for the Journey, “There is a great difference between successfulness and fruitfulness. Success comes from strength, control, and respectability. . . . Success brings many rewards and often fame. Fruits, however, come from weakness and vulnerability. And fruits are unique. . . . Let’s remind one another that what brings us true joy is not successfulness but fruitfulness” (Jan. 4).

I think Henri had it right. Hopefully, Lance is on his way to learning that too.

But what about you and me? How aware are you that you’re sacrificing your integrity at the alter of your drive for success? Whether it’s in your profession performance or keeping up a well-manicured image in relationships, it’s time to admit that all of us struggle.

I know I do.

Drivenness to succeed in ministry is still drivenness. It’s all about me. The apostle Paul reminds us to “make it our goal to please Him [Jesus]” (2 Cor. 5:9). When we focus on Him, it’s not about winning but about fruitfulness through faithfulness.

Lance reminded me in his interview that winning at all costs simply costs too much. Jesus’ invitation to follow Him and lose our life for His sake (Mark 8:35) is the way to discover a richness and fulfillment in life that surpasses any other finish line we may attempt to cross. And that’s the real victory.

Piling Up Stones

Dennis Moles —  January 22, 2013 — Leave a comment

This past weekend was a special time for me as a dad, a friend, and the follower of Jesus. It was a time of remembering the past, connecting with the present, and casting a vision for the future.

Every January the current and former members of a college organization called Theta Rho Epsilon meet for a weekend retreat. This year the meeting was in Chicago and my sons and I attended. Theta Rho Epsilon, which we affectionately call OPE (pronounced Opie—like Ron Howard’s character on the Andy Griffith show) is a men’s organization that began at Cedarville University back in the early nineties. The purpose and creed of OPE is summed up by Proverbs 27:17: “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” And for the last 20 years I have lived in community, often from a considerable geographical distance, with these guys—each of us trying to help the others look, act, and love like Jesus Christ.

When OPE began, I don’t think any of us had a clear idea how important the relationships we were making would be to us and our families. From the very best of times to the very worst of times, these guys have been there for me and I have been there for them.

As we gathered this weekend with friends old and new, I was reminded of the profound truth that none of us were meant to take this journey of discipleship alone. I was reminded that I need my brothers and they need me. I was reminded of the story we share and was encouraged by the story we are writing. But this year something else profound took place. This year all the alumni set aside some time to have a special ceremony for our sons.

It wasn’t elaborate. We simply told them stories, presented them with gifts, and shared our hearts. Essentially, we reminded them of the story of Joshua leading the children of Israel across the Jordan: 

When the whole nation had finished crossing the Jordan, the Lord said to Joshua, “Choose twelve men from among the people, one from each tribe, and tell them to take up twelve stones from the middle of the Jordan from right where the priests stood and to carry them over with you and put them down at the place where you stay tonight.” . . . “These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel forever.” . . . “In the future when your descendants ask their fathers, ‘What do these stones mean?’ tell them, ‘Israel crossed the Jordan on dry ground’ ” (Joshua 4:1-7, 21-22).

This past Saturday we piled up stones of our own. We reminded our sons, who range in age from 6 to 14, of the story of OPE. How before any of them was born we set out to help each other follow Jesus. How we have continued through the years to sharpen one another for the purpose of looking, acting, and loving like Christ. After we shared our story, we confessed to them that our greatest desire is for them to follow Jesus too and to know that they have a community of men who love them and are there for them no matter what.

Each boy left Chicago this weekend having received a necklace, hearing a declaration, and receiving a promise. The necklace simply reads “Proverbs 27:17.” It was presented to them by a man other than their dad with the simple declaration, “We choose you; we love you.” And it was solidified as 12 men stood to their feet and made these promises to 8 boys:

“We promise, as time and opportunity allows, to be a sharpening influence in your lives.”

“We commit, as the Holy Spirit brings you to our minds, to pray for you.”

“We are willing, should you ever need us, to be a safe place for you to share your questions and struggles as you grow and progress through life.”

“Regardless of the choices and decisions you make, we choose you.”

This weekend reminded me that I need to take more time to pile up stones. I need to remember the faithfulness of God in the past and declare that faithfulness in the present. It reminded me that I need my brothers, and it reminded me to pray for my own kids that they would find the same kind of relationships that God has blessed me with.

How long has it been since you piled up some stones?

This is my last installment on Christmas traditions. We’ve covered some Faith-based traditions, some family and fun-based traditions. This time, it’s all about the food! And there are several reasons for that.

Food-based Traditions:

First of all,  I’m not talking about glutenous self-indulgence, but how we use food to celebrate as part of our traditions. The seven annual festivals of the Jewish people that we find in the Old Testament were marked with music and food that symbolized these as special times of rich celebration. These times all celebrated the goodness of God and His goodness to us.

Second, frankly, most of the meaningful conversations and celebrations in my home almost always centered around the kitchen table. It started at my great Aunt Marie’s Thanksgiving table, my Grandma Corl’s Christmas table, and later passed to my immediate family’s table for birthdays, graduations, and most other holidays. Laughter, music, story-telling and special foods all were a rich part of my family’s traditions. But Christmas was always the best.

So, it makes sense to us that the greatest celebration of the whole year would be the birthday of Jesus, the Savior of all mankind. Christmas should be the biggest birthday party of the year. The music of the season is sometimes reflective and sobering as we focus on the events of His humble birthday arrival in Bethlehem. Other songs are festive and fun, reflecting the “joy to the world” that knowing the Lord brings into a world filled with cares and concerns.

In keeping with the idea of the biggest birthday party of the year, there are foods that are reserved for the holidays that we just don’t make throughout the rest of the year. Sugary treats–like special raisin-filled cookies, snow balls covered in powdered sugar, Danish puffs on Christmas morning, eggnog on Christmas Eve, homemade and hand-dipped chocolates, a birthday cake for Jesus (especially when our children were younger) and yes, the proverbial fruitcake.

Now before you overreact, don’t think of the store-bought-sorry-excuse-for-a-fruitcake that all the late night comics love to make fun of–like David Letterman’s Top 10 Things you can do with a fruitcake. I’m talking about homemade fruitcake! This is the real deal, chucked full of a fruity goodness and a glorious reminder that the God who made our tongues to enjoy this scrumptious variety of delightful tastes is the One who makes beauty and goodness possible every day of our lives.

What makes it even more special is that we make all these delicious delights in our kitchen–together. Well, that’s where my wife shines. She loves feeding her family. And she’s learned how to include all of us in some aspects of making the Christmas foods together. For instance, my son is the peanut brittle specialist. I samples more than a few pieces of his first batch last night! Yum! My daughters roll out cookies and help dip the chocolates. These experiences not only teach them the traditions and skills of Christmas cooking, but they add to the fun and “togetherness” that is such an important part of the holiday celebrations. Every one participates where and when they can (as is age appropriate).

Growing up in central Pennsylvania and my wife in the Lancaster County area, our roots have Pennsylvania Dutch (really German, not Dutch like the Netherlands) influences. Thus, our traditional meal on New Year’s Day is pork smothered in sauerkraut and plopped in the middle of a pile of mashed potatoes. My grandmother said it was for good luck in the new year. Why “good luck” I’ll never get, but it sure tasted good then and still does.

These holiday treats serve as reminders that once every year we “bring out the best” and serve up a delightful banquet for the palate to enjoy as we celebrate the birth of Jesus, the greatest man to ever walk the face of this planet. But they also serve as appetizers, anticipating the day when Jesus, who came the first time in humility to live and die as the sacrificial solution for our sin problem, will return some day as our King and will throw the greatest of all banquets–the Marriage Supper of the Lamb as a celebration for His second coming in glorious and triumphant power “to make all things new” (Rev. 21:3-5).

These are some of the foods we celebrate Christmas with. So, how about you? What are some of the special foods and why are they special to your family traditions? (Recipes are optional, but welcomed.)

Have a blessed Christmas celebrating with your family and friends.