Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Risk and Change: You Can't Grow Without Them

I'm leaving my current job. We'll move eleven hundred miles or so in five or six weeks to another town and new ministry. We'll have to develope new relationships, find different doctors, dentists and hairstylists and make a different house a home.

Sure, we've done this before but not often. It would be so much easier to stay in a place we like with people we know well and where we were pretty comfortable all around. Because you see this step in our life will require more risk and change. And for some people risk and change are typically avoided.

And to be honest we aren't going to like all of it but we've learned it's necessary and actually helpful. You won't grow if you won't risk anything. You won't mature and get stronger if you're unwilling to change. And as a Christ follower you don't get to depend on God as much and see Him at His best and greatest.

Of course, there can be too much risk or too much change.  Too much risk is usually disguised foolishness. Too much change generally leads to unhealthy chaos often hurting relationships in major ways.

But staying put all the time, never risking the new and scary makes for a like with little real excitement and fulfillment.

How to know you might be holding back from change and risk and not growing as a result?

Examine your life. Have you been in the same house, job, hobbies and habits for decades? Have you been confronted with opportunities to do something different or live somewhere else and you've turned each one down without a grain of thought?

Are you feeling rather bored and unfulfilled?  Sameness has a way of producing boredom.  Never trying anything new can lead to wonder about your purposes here.

Let me suggest a place to start.  First, if you're married, get away with your spouse and simply talk about your bucket list, things you've always wanted to do but never have. That will likely lead to some first steps, fun ideas or even radicaly, potential changes that are very doable and exciting.

Second, pray. Ask God to help you consider some new work, ministry, serving opportunity that would stretch you. There might be things right in front of you in your church or community that would light your personal fire and give you an opportunity to trust God through some risk-taking and change. Seek forgiveness, too, for just staying put so long and living for comfort rather than commitment to Him.

Third, do one thing to get out of your comfort zone. Don't rest until you've started that new thing.  Do some research, begin planning and talking to people about your ideas.  And if you're a parent get your kids involved. Let them learn with you about trusting God, trying new things and not living the way everyone else lives.

Think about the many special things we enjoy in our society that we would never have if someone wasn't willing to take a risk and change. Chances are you're missing out on some of your home in your home and life. Get going now.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Happy and Faithful Are Boring, But The Best

I read an article that interviewed an actor whose character was just written out of the show during the season's latest episode. And as part of one of his answers to why they couldn't always make his character happy he responded essentially saying that "happy doesn't make for good drama."

And he's right. Happy is way more boring for television or a good movie than action, struggle, manipulation and revenge. An intruiging story will most often have a protagonist, antagonist, numerous plot high points and low points and a host of surprises. That's why many Christian movies aren't very good - they don't tell interesting stories because they try to make everything always work out fine. But in reality it does not.

Newspapers, sitcoms and the latest films rarely focus on people who stay the course, are naturally happy and stay faithful to their spouse, other family and friends. They're boring. Who wants to hear about that?

Who wants to know more about the person who simply loves God for decade after decade but never makes a headline for some horrible mistake or a huge endeavor? Who wants to hear about the single mom who year after year works hard outside her home, then comes home to work until the kids are in bed only to do it again the next day and the next?

Who wants to read about the dad or mom who worked steady, average jobs all their lives so their son and daughter could both go to the college they never went to?  Not many. But I do because that was my mom and dad.

You see happy and faithful don't necessarily make great drama but they produce rich marriages and family. And when I talk about happy I don't mean some syrupy, never-real, never-honest kind of relating. No, I mean that people have something deep within them that truly satisfies and fulfills, not just getting more, succeeding more or partying more.

And faithfulness to God and to each other doesn't necessarily mean some sort of drab, no fun kind of existence. It's commitment that lasts and love that overcomes even the toughest challenges. There are lots of things that are boring which have to be done over and over for a long time that have worthwhile results. Scales on the piano, thousands of golf swings, a language practiced and math tables memorized.

What are the members of your family learning and committed to do that may be a little boring now but that last for a lifetime?  Make sure your home includes some of those and that you remind each other that being boring isn't always so bad.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Red Flag Tensions in Mate Finding To Share With Your Kids

I've seen a few helpful lists online recently that suggest things to teach our children to look for or avoid in the person they marry. And most of them seem pretty accurate, worth talking to your kids about.

However, let me take a slightly different approach and discuss what I would call the tensions that must be addressed when embracing or rejecting a particular characteristic one sees in a potential mate. What I want to suggest is that even too much of a good thing may be as unhealthy and destructive as an abundance of a negative quality.

For example, let's say that someone is very careful about how they spend money. That sounds like a good quality and probably is. But what if their frugality becomes obsessive to the point where they never spend money for fun, for enjoyment, for special moments or for the spouse to use as they feel led?

It seems to me that we need to also help our children in selecting their future mate to prayerfully and wisely look at the whole spectrum of a person's qualities and be willing to admit that this person may have too much of a seemingly good thing. There may be some underlying need that causes that person to be overly positive which can ultimately become destructive and demoralizing.

Of course in every marriage there will be differences that we must learn to love and appreciate. No two people will ever be a perfect match. But let me suggest several spectra that I often see in marriages where that tension I'm talking about should have been considered and monitored. And let's face it some things can be hidden well but perhaps these suggestions will give you and your kids a place to start looking.

Do they have a sense of humor?  Or can they not stand humor and more specifically yours?

Do they care about the things of God, being like Jesus and their personal faith?  Or can they talk about nothing else so that they are really "of no earthly good?"

Do they talk to you?  Or do they ever stop talking period?

Do they love themself in appropriate ways?  Or are they the only person they care about?

Are they motivated, hard working and industrious?  Or is getting to the top their ultimate goal ahead of you and everything else?

Do they love children?  Or are they basically still a child and likely not going to change?

Do they share their emotions freely?  Or are they a loose cannon who hurts you and others with their feelings and words?

Are they careful and wise?  Or do they actually live in irrational fear most of the time?

Are they nice? Or are they actually just covering up deeper anger, resentment and bitterness?

Are they honest about their mistakes and faults?  Or are only concerned with yours?

There are lots more.  Let me encourage you to think of some that you might add to the list. Remind your kids that this is why they need to take time to get to know someone for a while. The real person doesn't show up on one or two dates or even in a couple of months of knowing someone. Make sure they see this person in a variety of settings.

And no, living together rarely helps this process. Playing house typically covers up or masks any real discernment about the other person under the guise of phony commitment.

When our kids do the hard work of pondering, experiencing and getting to know each other they have far more hope for success and a relationship that is all they hoped it would be from the first time they even considered marriage. Help them mom and dad. Give them some tools they need. I hope this might be one of them.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

How We Might Knock The Air Out of Someone At Home

I only remember it happening a few times growing up, but I'll never forget the sensation either. I'd be playing with friends or involved in some sporting activity and someone would accidentally run into me, a ball would smash into my abdomen or I'd fall down in an awkward way.

And all of a sudden it felt like I couldn't breathe. It would take several minutes before I could catch my breath and feel somewhat normal again. It's called getting the air knocked out of you and it happens all the time, even to adults, especially those who play rough sports.

Unfortunately we can do the same, at least emotionally, to one of our loved ones at home.

Often it's done through our words. In a fit of anger we may yell and call someone a name, imply they are stupid or make an unfair (and likely untrue for the most part) comment about their character.  "You're lazy," we say to our teen. "You aren't much of a student," we spew to our 4th grader. Or, "You're just like your mother," we rant to our wife.

Sometimes we do need to say hard or challenging things at but we should never, and let me repeat that, never attack someone's character. We can talk about their current action and why it was wrong or unwise but it hurts deeply and can knock the emotional air out of someone we love to imply something unkind and untrue that they are as a person.

We can also injure through our actions or lack of them. We promise that we'll be there for a game or other special activity but regularly never make it. We make a family member look bad or silly in front of others. Or we brag all the time about one child but can never seem to find anything good to say about the others.

Actions matter. They are the exclamation point on our promises. They are the follow-through to our words. No, we'll never be perfect but don't promise if you can't deliver most of the time.

And believe it or not we can even hurt someone through a look or expression. We all know when someone looks at us with a face that clearly says they are disgusted with or ashamed of us we remember and feel it for a long time. Many a helpful resolution to a conflict or disagreement has been undermined by a look of disdain before the conversation could ever get started.

Are you knocking the air out of those you love? Take inventory. Listen to yourself. Ask others to watch too. Because if we keep doing it, some of the people who matter most to us will simply quit "playing" with us and that would be a tragedy.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Trying To Light What Can't Give Light

I recently officiated at a wedding, one of my favorite things to do as a pastor. The reception was in a lovely venue out in the Texas hill country. Some friends at our church were also there both to assist with some of the wedding preparations and then to attend.

So after the wedding finished we were getting ready to sit down at one of tables but my friend and his wife were, like the servants they are, going around to see that the candles on the tables were lit.  Each table had a large candle in the middle with four smaller candles around it outside of the glass covering for the larger candle.

So the man came by our table with his lighter and easily lit the four smaller candles but couldn't seem to get the large one in the middle lit. He finally gave up only to have his sweet wife come by, lift up the candle, turn it over and click the switch on the bottom. It was obviously electric and a fake. We all had a good laugh afterward seeing our friend with a slightly red face.

And I thought to myself . . . how many people in everyday life are trying to get light or a flame out of something that was never intended to light?

They try. Sometimes over and over. They believe with all their heart that some activity or person or accomplishment will finally light up for them and give them what they had hoped for.  But like that electric bulb, which was never intended to become a warm flame, their hoped for satisfaction never appears either. 

Getting married,  having children, getting that promotion, obtaining that long-sought-after degree, seeing their kids win awards, owning more stuff, getting the big house, having a parent finally affirm them . . . .The list is endless. And yet they keep striking their match.

We've all done this, haven't we? The question is, "Have we gotten over the pull of things or people for our fulfillment?"  Are we trying to light a flame that is un-lightable?

If you are, then it's time for a recalibration of your thinking and your heart. It's time to learn that there are many wonderful things on most of our lists that are good to desire, but terrible to demand. Much unhappiness in life is really the result of  unmet expectations. And if we expect these things or people to make us happy we will live the rest of our lives with expectations never reached. We'll be trying to light an electric candle with a match.

Practically?  Start being thankful for what you already have. More is never enough.  Begin to pray more for what you desire and ask God to take away your demand for anything or anyone but Him.

Second, slow down, live with less and add margin to your life. Limit how many activities your kids are in and how often the family taxi has to run to meet all their needs. If you'll try this even on a small scale you will find yourself enjoying life and your family so much more.

Third, take inventory with  your spouse or a friend and admit those things have been  your lights that won't light. Don't beat yourself up, just commit to quit trying to light them. Take a first step to live differently and find your own real candle that does light.

You'll be a lot less irritated and a lot less . . . .well, shall I say "embarassed."

Saturday, March 1, 2014

Beware Family Sinkholes

Maybe you heard about the car museum in Florida where some eight Corvettes were damaged or destroyed falling into a sinkhole that appeared in the floor. Eight Corvettes! Most of us would love to have just one!

One moment that museum housed hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of shiny sports cars and minutes later many were gone. What was so valuable quickly turned to rubble.

I wonder if we ought to think about life that way a bit more. I wonder if we shouldn't look at many of the things that seem valuable to us and realize that life's sinkholes could take them away too in an instant.

I often talk with people who at one time were making hundreds of thousands of dollars each year but now struggle to find or keep a job. For a while they were living the high life but now it's vanished. Others lost their "Corvettes" to their health, to the economy, to a dishonest coworker or their own foolishness. Whatever the case the wealth and value they once thought they had is no more.

Sometimes life is hard and bad things happen.

So what do we do? Like that museum we can't always avoid the sinkholes. They often just happen. But we can have a different perspective that won't make the loss seem so great.  We can value different things so that we put our hope in what truly matters. And that perspective is something we parents must especially teach our kids. We couples must affirm for each other every day.

A few key components of a healthy perspective?

Stuff is only stuff. More of anything material does not make more of us! If we have it, great. If we lose it, it's not the end of the world. Do not let your home, your efforts, your focus revolve around more things. If you're blessed with a lot, give a lot away.

Relationships are where the greatest riches lie. Invest in time with each other, making memories and learning more about each other. Unfortunately, families today have or make little time to just be with each other, talk and grow together. Be different and make time for one another.

Don't become an entitled couple or family. Don't expect that you always have to get the best, the most and what's first.  Teach your kids to look out for those who have less, volunteer in places where people have little and be willing to scale back and live on less.

Ask yourself, "What would we do if we lost most everything material that we own?"  Of course you would be sad, even devastated, but could you see yourself moving on?  Can you picture your family living on less and knowing that you're OK?

The greatest example of someone not needing stuff was Jesus. He even said that he had "nowhere to lay his head."  He had no home, few possessions and probably not a lot of clothes. But He was the source of peace and joy and still is.

It seems like if He could do it, we can . . . and must.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Is Debt Slowly Stealing Your Family's Health and Wealth?

I officiate a lot of weddings and love being a part of a couple's special day along with the preparation that goes with it. However, I've never heard any pair include, 'Till debt do us part," in their vows. But many couples today might as well say it because overspending is often central to the death of their marriage, home, reputation and even family.

In addition, many young couples today believe that they must immediately have what others have worked hard for over many years - the nice house, two newer cars, club memberships, personal toys, hobbies and the ability to go out whenever they want and not worry about it. But often their income will not support all that so they start accumulating debt - house payment, car payments, credit card balances and loans.

Their excuse is to say to themselves, "But we can afford the payments."  And perhaps for a while they can. But eventually the payments won't even pay the interest while they continue to try and live the same way. And if they are living on two incomes the situation just gets worse if one loses their job or has to quit for some reason.

Soon they aren't living the good life anymore. They're drowning in the debt-life and it's not fun. Their relationship suffers, their children endure the extra stresses and they eventually may just give up trying to get out of their mess while bathed in a lot of heartache.

In a recent Wall Street Journal article, a couple was described who was $50,000 in debt. A financial planner asked them where the boat or pool or RV was that they purchased to incur such a debt. Sadly, they couldn't even remember one thing they bought with that money!

So, let me first talk to those of you who aren't plagued by debt, at least not so far.  First, continue to spend only what is concurrent with your income. Remember you don't have to have everything everyone else has. Be thankful for what you have but resist the temptation to get more.

Second, keep saving something every paycheck. Start if you haven't already with an emergency fund. If things are tight then shoot for $1000 first. Increase your fund to at least several months income later. Save for retirement through your company or start a separate fund or two using a financial expert.

Third, as Dave Ramsey suggests, live like no one else now so you can live like no one else later. Develop a thankful heart and spirit in your home. Drive an older car, live in a smaller house now so that you can have more later that you own free and clear.  Don't give your kids everything and don't borrow money except for your home.

Fourth, start or continue a budget. You must know where your money is going and start planning ahead so you can enjoy a freedom to spend money and have it work for you.

However, if debt has you in its grip, start changing your financial habits today. Develop an emergency fund first, quit using your credit cards, begin saving something every check, downsize your house and cars and start taking control of your money instead of it controlling you. Find a financial professional to help you discover other important ways to save and to spend more wisely.

Money isn't evil. The Bible says that it's the love of it that's the problem. Debt isn't usually an avalanche that kills you all at once. It's more like a non-stop snowfall that gradually gets you. The good news is that it doesn't have to happen. Get financially healthy this year. And if you're already there, stay that way!