Six Principles That Will Keep any Relationship Healthy, Happy and Thriving-

Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift~ Matthew 5:23-24

 Relationships.

 The blessing and curse of human existence.

 When our closest relationships are healthy and thriving, there is little in this life more rewarding.  When a close relationship goes bad there is literally nothing more miserable and angst-inducing.  

 In our chaotic, sin-sick world fragmented relationships are pretty much a given. Almost half of marriages end in divorce, friendships end as quickly as they begin, business associations rarely stand the test of time and churches routinely split over the stupidest stuff imaginable. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe that life is “all about me”. This creates an environment where it feels natural to treat relationships like disposable commodities. We have basically forgotten the principle found in Proverbs that reminds us never to forsake a friend or the friend of a family member- (Proverbs 27:10a)

 The Bible clearly teaches that Christians bear an extra measure of responsibility when it comes to the care, keeping and healing of relationships. We are reminded over and over again in Scripture that human relationships are not always easy but the difficulties involved in maintaining healthy relationships will make us better people (Proverbs 27:6, Proverbs 27:17).  Christians are directed to treat others the way they want to be treated and encouraged to take the initiative when it comes to reconciling broken relationships (Matthew 7:12, Ephesians 4:32, Matthew 5:23-24, Luke 12:58). Repairing damaged relationships and helping others to do the same is probably the most basic task Christians are called to in this life (2nd Corinthians 5:12-18) The process begins with understanding and choosing to live out the following six principles:

 If something feels wrong assume something is wrong-

 Never trivialize or ignore the niggling sense you may have caused offense or alienated another person (Proverbs 18:19). When in doubt ask how the other person is feeling and/or modify your behavior. The earlier a damaged relationship is attended to the simpler it is to repair.

 Do not short-circuit the recovery process-

 Anytime we jump to simply restoring a broken relationship without working through the issues that fractured the relationship in the first place we set in motion a series of events that will inevitably lead to even more brokenness and hurt. Problems need to be talked out, not glossed over if we want to see permanent recovery in the relationship and personal growth in ourselves. 

 Be willing to assume at least partial responsibility for any relationship fracture-  

 I truly loathe the adage: “perception is reality”. Mostly because if you really break it down it sounds like something a really crazy person would say. However, when it comes to hurt in relationships perception really is reality. It is critical we remember ALL human beings tend to be self-absorbed and blind to their own faults. For that reason, it is possible to hurt another person without knowing how we hurt them. Healthy, mature believers are always open to the idea that they may not understand how their words or actions have affected another person

 Accept the other person’s opinions regarding the situation-

 If someone lets you know the relationship has been broken or feels they were wronged by you it is not wise, kind or emotionally intelligent to write that person off as stupid, incorrect, easily hurt or just plain clueless. As Christians we owe it to God and people to find out why others feel the way they feel about situations that involve us—even when we truly believe we have done nothing wrong.  Not caring about the other persons side of things is both narcissistic and grossly sinful.  The only time we are free from the obligation of exploring the other person’s perspective is if the individual flatly refuses to communicate with us.

 Be willing to let some things go-

 Our personal relationships matter to God because relationship health is a measure of our spiritual health and maturity level. It is also reasonable to say that from God’s perspective relationships are nearly always worth preserving (Proverbs 17:9). The key to achieving relationship health is a willingness to let some things go. Cruelty, gas lighting, unfaithfulness in marriage or flagrant disrespect for the other person is never okay. That said, most other issues can be worked through if both parties are willing to listen, change and forgive.

Choose to view relationship troubles as opportunities for growth- 

 No normal, healthy or sane human being likes relationship issues. That said, truly mature people view all problems including relationship problems as an opportunity for growth rather than a hassle or a personal attack.

 The health of our relationships is a measure of our maturity. It is also a reflection of the power of our God in the eyes of unbelievers. A God who has the power to impact our relationships is a God worth following. For that reason Christians should do everything they can do to ensure their relationships are healthy and God honoring. 

 

Three Things We Can All Do to Make Church Great in 2018

 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come. The old has gone, the new is here~ 2nd Corinthians 5:17 NIV

 Its official (actually it was official in 2005) January is (at least for most people) the most depressing month of the year.

 I get it.

 January has its fair share of shortcomings. Once Christmas is over the snow promptly loses its charm and there is zero hope the weather will improve for at least another couple of months. The merriment of the holidays has ended and the irksome credit card bills have come due for the generosity we felt over Christmas. That leaves most of us feeling a bit Grinch-y in hindsight. Compounding the negativity, most of us are feeling a bit pudgy and gross after the all-you-can-eat feeding frenzy that is the month of December.

 Without question, all of the above is clearly true.

 However, you will never catch me hating on the month of January. I love January for a multitude of reasons, but mostly because it offers a respite from the frantic madness of November and December. The slower more relaxed pace of January provides a much-needed opportunity for rest, reflection and goal setting.

 In that spirit, I have spent the better part of the last week pondering some of the goals I have set for the coming year. And as I was thinking through all that it occurred to me that there are some small changes we could all make this coming year that just might make a huge difference in how the world perceives the Church, and by extension how they perceive Jesus and Christian people. Changing how Christians are perceived in the culture might just help us to reach more people this year with the love of Jesus.

 So, in the interest of making this next year a great one for the cause of Christ I want to suggest three small, relatively painless changes we could all make that would make Christianity more appealing to the world around us without compromising truth.

 Starting with:

 A commitment to change the things that need to change-

 It’s true that some people are turned off by the message of Christianity (believe in Jesus and repent of your sin [Mark 1:15]). That said, more often than not, people are turned off by the behavior of Christians long before they get to hear the message of Christianity. Being purposeful about our own spiritual growth (Philippians 2:12, Hebrews 12:14, 2nd Peter 1:3-10) prevents this tragedy. Intentionality in the arena of spiritual growth has to begin with a commitment to examine ourselves daily so that we will be painfully aware of our own sinful inclinations. It ends with an unwavering commitment to honoring God in every area of our lives. The payoff for a commitment to spiritual growth is two-fold. We grow into the people God has called us to be (Ephesians 1:4, 1st Peter 2:9) and the holiness we acquire through this process gives us the spiritual power we need to lead others into relationship with Jesus.

 Expanding your circle of friendship-

 It is true that we grow in our faith and knowledge of God and life anytime we spend quality time with other Christians (Hebrews 10:25, Proverbs 27:17). It is also true that non-believers have their view of the world challenged when they spend time with and engage in meaningful conversations with Christians (John 4, Acts 17:16-34). If we would all commit to building some meaningful relationships with a few people (Christians and non-Christians) outside our circle I believe we could have a significant impact on our own little corner of the world. That in turn would make our world a better place and in the process we will learn more about life and God and make some new friends all at the same time. That’s a win all the way around.

 Forgiving someone-

 Over and over again in Scripture Christians are commanded to forgive others (Matthew 11:25, Luke 17:4, Colossians 3:13), Jesus even tied God’s forgiveness towards us to our willingness to forgive others (Matthew 6:15, Luke 6:37). I believe that God wants us to forgive others because unforgiveness leads to bitterness (among other things). Bitterness turns us into ugly, unpleasant people who are unlikely to attract others to Christianity or anything else. This is why the writer of Hebrews tells us that bitterness causes trouble and defiles many (Hebrews 12:15). The New Year is a perfect time to begin the process of forgiving those people who have hurt us. When we forgive others we become people that God can use for the good of others and for His glory.

 Wishing you all a joyful and spiritually productive 2018!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Wishlist for the Church In 2017

 And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ~ Philippians 1:9-10 NIV

I have a rather sketchy relationship with New Year’s resolutions.

 I love the whole notion of New Year’s resolutions. Unfortunately, I tend to struggle with the follow-thru required to actually bring my dreams of self-betterment to fruition.

 It all starts out fairly well.

 Like most folks I typically I find myself feeling a bit pudgy and sluggish between Christmas and News Years. It’s the sad but predictable outcome of too many Christmas cookies and not enough time on the treadmill in the weeks leading up to the holidays. So logically my goals for the coming year begin with a strategy for weight loss and reaching a level of physical fitness I have never achieved before (a doubtful endeavor at my age and stage of life, but you can’t fault a woman for hoping).

 Next, because I like to consider myself a spiritually minded individual, I normally include a resolution to study and pray more. I also typically resolve to read at least a couple of books written by people who are smarter and more spiritual than I am. I also always include some sort of strategy to better myself in a tangible way (i.e. become a better wife, mother, writer, speaker, leader, friend etc.)

 To my credit, I tend to do better at the stuff that actually matters (spiritual discipline, self-improvement, prayer) than I do at weight loss and achieving physical fitness goals. The only time I can remember losing a significant amount of weight in the month of January was the year my daughter was born. She was born in January, so losing fifteen pounds wasn’t exactly an earth-shattering achievement

 My biggest grievance with New Years resolutions is that most years my resolve vanishes around the same time the Valentines candy shows up on store shelves. Therefore, this year I am taking a new approach. Rather than simply resolving to make some superficial changes in my life, I have decided to choose a few issues and make them a focus of prayer throughout the year.

 Some of the things I intend to pray about are personal; others are more global, most are both. Many of my prayers for this coming year will be focused on the church and what I hope God does in the lives of His people (me included) this coming year.

 Without question, my number one yearning for Christians is that we will do what needs to be done to make the main thing the main thing once again. From God’s perspective the main thing is for people who don’t know Jesus to come to know Jesus and repent of their sins (Acts 4:12, 1st Timothy 2:3-4, John 3:16).

 Sadly, evangelism ceased to be the main thing in most of our churches long ago. Making unsaved people feel loved, welcome and utterly un-judged has taken a backseat to getting those people saved and walking in truth (Matthew 28:19-20). I pray this is the year we do the soul searching and hard work necessary to make evangelism a priority in the life of the Church once again.

 My hope is that this is the year we will gain a deeper understanding of the complexity and depth of Christian love. Love is our highest calling as Christians (1st John 4:7, 1st Corinthians 13) no one with even a shallow acquaintance with Scripture would bother arguing against that point. However, Christian love is more complicated than simply being nice to sinful people.

 Jesus was the nicest, kindest person who ever lived. However, niceness did not prevent Him from informing sinners they would go to hell if they refused to repent of their sins (Matthew 4:17, Luke 13:2-3, John 8:11) and kindness didn’t stop Him from calling out hypocrisy and pretense when He encountered it (Matthew 23). I’m thinking it’s time for the pendulum to swing back and for the church to preach all aspects of the gospel consistently once again.

 My prayer is that followers of Jesus will do the hard things that need to be done so we can grow into the people God has called us to be and reach the people God has called us to reach. If we do that, 2017 will be the year we truly impact our lost and hurting world for Jesus Christ.

 Happy New Year! 

 

 

 

 

Weight and Other Creeping Things-

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us~ Hebrews 12:1

 2015 will go down in history as the year that refused to go away quietly. In our family it ended with a rather brutal case of the flu. I got hit the hardest and because I have been blessed with a husband who worries too much, I spent the better part of an afternoon at urgent care.

 I am not a fan of urgent care clinics. Waiting is not my thing and urgent care is all about waiting. It’s just what you do. First you wait to speak with the receptionist. Then you are moved to a reception area to wait some more. Then the medical assistant escorts you to a sad little cubicle with no windows, At that point the waiting begins in earnest. Then they make you wait to leave.

 The waiting aside, the thing I find most troublesome about urgent care is being packed into a room teeming with sick people. I have nothing against sick people per se, but there is something about being confined in an enclosed space with a dozen or more sneezey strangers harboring who-knows-what kind of strange sickness that I find truly unsettling.

 I was waiting in the reception area, attempting to distract myself from thinking about the number of viruses that could potentially be mutating into the next outbreak, when the medical assistant called my name. I was ushered into the back room, where she pointed at a scale and informed me that that I needed to be weighed before I could see a doctor.

 I attempted to resist.

I hate being weighed even more than I hate waiting. I don’t own a scale. I have always thought that voluntarily being weighed is a bit like begging for bad news.  I like to think I’m smarter than that. However, good manners eventually won out over my dread and I eventually stepped onto the scale, but only after removing my shoes and coat. A few minutes later I found myself sincerely wishing that I could have taken off more than just my shoes and coat.

 I will not tell you how much I weighed. In the interest of full disclosure I will tell you that it was a large number, one I haven’t seen on a scale since my pregnancy years. After the disturbing weigh-in I was escorted to the cubicle where I had plenty of time to think while I waited for the doctor.

 I was shocked and horrified by the number on the scale. One of the reasons I hate scales is because they don’t lie and they have no way of softening the bad news. But it wasn’t the number that bothered me the most. It was the fact that I didn’t even notice the pounds sneaking on that really bothered me. It’s the sort of thing you would think one would notice.

 Then it hit me like a ton of bricks: weight is not the most dangerous thing we can miss sneaking up on us. Spiritual health is far more important to the big picture and even easier to neglect.

 One of the reasons spiritual health is so easy to neglect is because it cannot be measured by looking at a person or the number of spiritual activities we participate in. Spiritual health can be faked, at least on the surface. A person can look good on the outside, say all the right things, be in church every time the doors are open and even read the Bible daily and still have a sin-sick soul.

 Spiritual health is measured in attitudes and actions, rather than by appearances. One sure sign of good soul health is when we can see and celebrate the hand of God in more than just the times of ease and plenty. Our spirits are healthy when we see people the way God sees them. When we understand that people are, the end, never simply the means to an end. Our spirits are healthy when we are engaged in activities and relationships where God is at the center.

 We know our spirits are healthy when we are content with what we have but are still seeking to grow in whatever calling God has given us. The key to staying spiritually healthy is to stay close to God, to keep Him at the center of every question we have, every concern that comes our way, and every celebratory moment we are privileged to experience.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Wake Up

I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called—his holy people who are his rich and glorious inheritance.   ~ Ephesians 1:18 NLT

 For as long as I can recall, I have loved the idea of New Years resolutions. I made my first one when I was eight years old. I scribbled it out in crayon and resolved to sweet-talk my parents into getting me a dog of my very own. As I matured, my yearly resolutions gradually became a bit more refined but no less self-centered. For the most part I focused on losing weight, meeting personal goals, making money, and other self-improvement schemes.

 I became a Christian as a young adult and over time my New Years resolutions evolved more into prayers I would commit to praying for the year. Some of those prayers/resolutions were and still are rather self-absorbed, but most centered on becoming a better, godlier person rather than just a skinnier, more attractive person.

 As 2015 makes its debut, I have committed to pray for and resolved to work on some personal and family issues this coming year. I have also committed to praying for the Church this year. In this context, “Church” refers to the people throughout the world who profess Christ as Lord.

 I feel led to pray for the Church because, well, frankly I am profoundly concerned for the Church and and have been for a very long time. I fear that the body of Christ has gone off course and is in danger of losing its way. So for my first post of 2015 I will share the top six prayers/hopes I have for God’s people this coming year.

 I pray that we would all:

 Know our value-

 Scripture and experience have persuaded me that every Christian has boundless potential for impacting their little corner of the world for good. You are valuable enough for Christ to die for you. We are so cherished that Jesus is continuously interceding for each one of us (Romans 8:34, Hebrews 7:25). That makes us all far too significant to waste our time chasing pointless pastimes, getting stuck in patterns of sin or exerting energy harboring bitterness and resentment.

 Do something hard-

 Hard things include, but are not limited to, helping those who have life-controlling issues, loving the unlovable, adopting orphans, offering help to the hurting, and just generally functioning as salt and light in our broken-down, busted-up world. Hard things are seldom attempted, because hard things are by their very nature time-consuming, emotionally risky and expensive. Hard things are also the only things that have the potential to transform the lives of people. When we work to transform the lives of people we make this world a better place and bring God’s Kingdom a little closer to Earth.

 Stop being afraid to make people squirm every once in a while-

 The New Testament repeatedly links repentance or a change in behavior with saving faith and spiritual growth (Luke 24:7, Acts 3:19, Acts 17:30-31, 2nd Corinthians 7:10, 2nd Timothy 2:24-26). Preaching and teaching on repentance has been replaced with upbeat messages aimed at boosting self-esteem and soothing consciences rather than awakening them. I am not advocating an all-out return to hellfire-and-brimstone preaching; nevertheless I do think it’s high time we stopped being so fearful of making people feel bad.

 Repair something-

 Every Christian should be a reconciler and rebuilder (2nd Corinthians 5:18-19). Think of all that could change if enough of us got serious about reconciling broken relationships and rebuilding broken systems in our communities.

 Pray more-

 Prayer isn’t about getting God to see things our way or do what we want. Prayer is about being enabled to see things God’s way and empowered to do what God wants done. We could certainly use a little more of all that. Getting it will require a commitment to pray more.

 Restore shame-

 Physiologists have sold society a flimflam job. As a result, many Christians have bought into the ludicrous notion that shame is always a sign of some sort of psychological issue or problem. The Bible teaches that shame is a natural consequence of bad behavior. I am aggressively campaigning for a return of shame because without sit no one will ever feel the urge to adjust course or repent of their sin.

 I love the New Year because it is a time to reflect on where we are, who we are becoming and what we are accomplishing with our time and resources. I am praying that this is the year Christians awaken to our value in Christ, pray zealously, speak the truth openly and lovingly, embrace hard things, rebuild broken things and endeavor to be the Church rather than simply attend Church.