Tuesday, July 28, 2015

The 3 Quickest Ways To Damage The Relationships You Love The Most

Everyone would agree that one of the most important things in our lives (if not the most important) is our relationships. The people that we pour into each day matter to us. Those who care for us and invest in us are a defining part of our life. If our relationships are so important, why are so many of us plagued with broken relationships? Here are three things to think about that could be damaging your relationships right now:

Assuming You Know

You have likely spent a good deal of time with your closest relationships. You know your friends and families as well as anyone, but it’s important to remember that you don’t know them perfectly. Not only that, but people change over time, so the things you know today, may be less true in a couple of months.  So, when your daughter comes to talk to you, don’t automatically switch to auto-pilot, assuming that you know what she is going through and what she needs. You may not know. Even if you have a pretty good idea, she needs to talk about it. So look at her and really listen.

Assuming Everyone’s OK

Things can often seem good on the surface of your family or friend group. No one is complaining. Everyone is going to school or work and seems to be functioning well. But, just because everyone looks ok, doesn’t mean that everyone is ok. Here’s a shocking truth for you: people are really good at hiding stuff.  (ok, that’s not a big revelation). You don’t know how people are doing until you ask. Pay attention to people, listen to them, and pray for them. The earlier you catch a problem the easier it is to deal with.

Assuming It’ll Pass

We all make mistakes. We all say hurtful things or leave important things unsaid. When you have hurt someone, don’t assume that the damage will go away if you ignore it. The same goes for being hurt by others. There are only two ways to deal with these sort of breakdowns. Forgive or confront. Own it and release it or go talk it out. Leaving things unaddressed leaves landmines scattered around in your relationship to be stepped on later. What was only a minor problem today can become a relationship crushing problem next month.

Pay attention to the people you love. Ask questions. Be present. It’s easier to keep a relationship healthy than it is to try to repair a broken one!

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Why Fighting Fire With Fire Will Only Get You Burned

Trying to live the life that Jesus modeled and has called us to isn’t easy. It would be easier if we could be totally surrounded by others who are also trying to follow Jesus. The world we live in, however, plays by very different rules. One of the most dangerous temptations Christians fall into is the “let’s beat them at their own game” mindset. This way of thinking believes that Christian ideals should be brought about by any means necessary. We should wield political power, and rally blocks of voters to persuade politicians to enforce Christian rules. If we disagree with businesses, we should boycott their products and services. Hit them where it hurts. Pressure them financially to back down or change course. Military power can be leveraged as well. After “the saints go marching in”, let’s send the Marines.

We picket. We protest. We buy billboards for Christians slogans.   We try to beat the world using the tactics of the world. For the most part, I don’t believe this has come about as a result of bad motives. Many Christians fear for their world, and the damage that is being done through reckless and selfish actions. Whether the motives are good or bad however, this is not how Jesus modeled for us to influence the world.


Jesus could have politically outmaneuvered the Pharisees and the Roman government. He was astounding religious leaders in the temple with his understanding even as a child. He had the ability to outsmart the system and to bring political change.

But He didn’t.

Jesus could have used military force to conquer the world. Angel armies beat any other armies you can imagine. Jesus had access to all the firepower He could have needed. Many of his followers were spoiling for a good fight anyway

But He didn’t.

Jesus could have bought and sold Rome thousands of times over. The wealth of heaven is pretty formidable. When you use gold as pavement, you live in pretty swanky neighborhood.

But He didn’t.

Jesus method was different. Jesus loved people. He was honest. And when the time came, He suffered and died. The resulting change in hearts and minds has lasted for over 2000 years and has touched every corner of the world.

Like Jesus we are called to love a world that will often not love us back. We are called to be honest and humble when arrogance and lying most often win the day. We are called to lose at every turn and to love those who seem to be defeating us. The way of Jesus isn’t the way of the world. When we follow Jesus we can stay calm even when it feels that the world is crumbling all around us. God has been at work. He is at work, and He will complete His work. That completed work will be far more wonderful, peace-filled, and fulfilling than anything we can imagine.

So, Christian friends, here are a few thoughts:

Vote. Have a voice politically. But don’t lose your mind when your candidate doesn’t win. And quit calling the other candidate an antichrist. It makes us all look bad.

Support our military men and women for the sacrifices they make for our country. Be there for them in their times of need when they return home. But stop taking joy in the thought that “bad guys” will be blown off the map. Jesus died for them too. They should be held accountable for their actions, but God never gives up on anyone. So, you should stop doing it.

Be wise financially. Spend you money on things that last. Use it to bring mercy and hope. After all, money can never buy you safety and security. It’ll only rent them for a while. In the end, mercy and hope are better investments.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo

Monday, July 20, 2015

Believing Drives Doing: How To See Yourself Honestly

I lost.

I am a loser.

Those statements seem to go together.  If you lost you are a loser right? They may seem similar, but those statements have very different consequences when deeply believed. One is a description of our performance, the other is a statement about who we are.

I’ve become hopelessly addicted to the GPS app on my phone. I use it anytime I travel any distance from home. I even use it when I’m close to home just to make sure I am taking the quickest route to where I want to go. Even with GPS it’s easy to miss turns and get lost. We lose focus, turn a bit too early, or get caught up singing Taylor Swift songs to the top of our lungs and don’t hear the notification to take the next left. (not that I’ve ever done the third one).

Taking a wrong turn is different from having a malfunctioning GPS. If we simply take a wrong turn, our GPS can “recalculate” a new route that will get us to where we want to go. It may take a bit longer, but we will eventually arrive at our destination.  If our GPS is broken, however, it will continue to give us wrong information, and we will never arrive at our intended location.

We all make mistakes, fail, sin, or lose at times in life.  Even though it’s not enjoyable, we can learn from our missteps. We pick ourselves up and try again. Believing that we are a loser or a failure is very different. What we believe to be true about ourselves directs every turn we make in life. Like a malfunctioning GPS, false beliefs will lead us off course.  If you believe that you are broken or a failure or unlovable, then you will live a broken life.

The message of the Bible is that God doesn’t believe that you are unlovable or irreparably broken. The Christian life is one in which we daily attempt to believe the truth that God is telling us about life and ourselves. We are loved, and God wants to repair our brokenness and then employ us to reach other broken people. It’s almost too good to believe. The question that I often return to may be one that you need to ask yourself as well: “Is my GPS broken?” Have I begun to believe things about myself that aren’t true? There are lots of voices in the world trying to make us doubt our value. We have to block out those toxic voices and listen for the true voice of God speaking into our hearts.

Eugene Peterson writes, “All the waters in the ocean cannot sink a ship unless it gets inside. Nor can all the trouble in the world harm us unless it gets within us.”  You can lose your job, fail in a relationship, get passed over for a promotion, and a thousand other things in life, but none of them will crush you if are able to remember that your identity isn’t the same as your performance. Your performance will fluctuate, but what God thinks of you will never change. So, keep an eye on your inner GPS, and remember that the God of the universe is for you.

Excerpt from "A Long Obedience In The Same Direction" by Eugene Peterson

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Charleston Shootings And The Unstoppable Power Of Character

Is it fair to say that more and more people today use tragedies as a platform to present their own thoughts and opinions? Fair or not, it's true. Following the tragic shooting in Charleston, SC, social media was packed with words of encouragement, words of hate, and everything in between. After our carefully worded posts cycled through and our emotions cooled, we moved on. The families of those lost, however, remained in the dark mists of their grief. Thousands of voices and sensationalist news reports almost obscured the real story. Many of the families forgave the murderer.

They forgave him.

That sort of courage and character is overwhelmingly beautiful, especially in a world that seems to increasingly lack both courage and character. How did they do it? Maybe even more importantly, how can we do it? How can we manifest such character in our own times of crisis? How can we offer hope and forgiveness rather than empty opinion and posturing?

How did the family members of those killed in Charleston forgive the person who had caused them such misery? The answer it seems is that they had already been forgiving for a very long time. Forgiveness was a skill they had already developed and employed countless times before.

There's a story from the Bible about a young man named Daniel who had been taken from his home after his country had been conquered by a foreign army. The habit of the Babylonian leaders at that time was to take the best and the brightest from each nation they conquered and bring them home to make their own nation stronger. Daniel was one of those best and brightest. Daniel's life in Babylon was marked with trials and challenges. During one such challenge we read that Daniel, "went to his house where he had windows in the upper chamber open toward Jerusalem. He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously." (Daniel 6:10). Daniel acted according to what he believed most valuable even when it threatened to cost him his life. How? He was simply doing what he had already formed a habit of doing. He prayed. Families in Charleston forgave.

Truly noble actions in the face of tragedy or danger can only come as a result of deeply formed character. In the words of Aristotle, "we are what we repeatedly do". Character is a habit worked out over time. Character is what we need most. Opinions change. Our culture will continue to morph from one thing to another, but deeply rooted character will always give hope and point to something bigger and more beautiful. Those courageous families in Charleston have character. May God give us each the drive and desire to form character of our own.

Photo Courtesy of Death To Stock Photo
Bible passage is from the English Standard Version

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

20 Albums In 20 Weeks: Rare Bird Alert by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers

We are now several weeks in to my 20 Albums in 20 Weeks, it’s about time some bluegrass made an appearance. This week’s album is Rare Bird Alert by Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers.

What They Think

Rare Bird Alert peaked at #1 on Billboard’s Top Bluegrass Albums List in 2011 and 2012. It also rose as high as #43 on Billboard’s Top 200 list in 2011.1

What I Think

I grew up in the mountains of western North Carolina where bluegrass music was played anywhere and everywhere. I hated it as a child. To my surprise as an adult I found that somehow bluegrass had gotten into my bones. Now I love it. It feels like home. Rare Bird Alert is an expertly played album and is tons of fun.

Favorite Lyrics

Some folks sing a Bach cantata
Lutherans get Christmas trees
Atheist songs add up to nada
But they do have Sundays free

(From "Atheists Don't Have No Songs")

Where It Fits

This album is not only fun but the music is brilliantly played. The musical talent of Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers is astounding.  Add to that guest appearances by Paul McCartney and The Dixie Chicks and you have an incredible album that should pop up in your playlist again and again.

1- Billboard.com

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Making The Trades That Make Life Great

When I was child I was told, “you can do whatever you set your mind to”. What liars those people turned out to be! Yes, you can do lots of things in life if you are willing to work for it. The problem is that you can’t do everything you want in life, at least not well.

Life has limits. Everybody and everything has limits. We only have 24 hours to spend each day. If we don’t spend a good amount of that time sleeping, our health and performance will suffer. If we don’t spend some of that time eating and drinking our strength and eventually our health will diminish. Most of us have to work, and most of us have relationships that we value that require time as well. We also have clubs, sports, hobbies, and chores that demand attention. There are books to be read, plays to be seen, and sights to travel to. How can we possibly fit it all in?

We can’t.

The only way to have a satisfying life is to accept the truth of trade-offs. Everything in life costs something.  It may cost you time, money, energy, or all of the above, but it will always cost something. You will have to trade your time to build relationships in life. We trade energy to be a part of the basketball league. We trade money for a place to live, plane tickets, and meals. There are limits however to the time, energy, and money we have to trade. So you have to be deliberate about what you trade and what you receive in return. Everything in life is a trade-off, but are you getting what you want out of the trades?

Ignoring the reality of our limits and the truth of trade-offs doesn’t change the facts. Pretending that you can do everything without ever having to say "no" will only work for a while. You will still make trade-offs, it’s just that you won’t be one determining which trades you make. If you don’t decide which trades in life to make, life will make those choices for you.

So, if you find yourself dissatisfied with your life and relationships, take a second and ask yourself, “What do I really want most in my life?” When you have that answer, you are ready for the follow-up question, “How can I trade my time, energy, and money to get the things I want most?”  Trade-offs are a reality of life, but if you trade wisely they can lead to a satisfying and enjoyable life.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

20 Albums In 20 Weeks: Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams

Next up in my list of 20 Albums in 20 Weeks is Heartbreaker by Ryan Adams. “Goodnight Rose” is one of my all-time favorite songs, so I decided to go back to the beginning for Ryan Adams. Heartbreaker is his first solo album after recording music with his band Whiskeytown.

What They Think

Pitchfork Media ranked “Come Pick Me Up” from Heartbreaker as #285 song in the 2000’s.1 Also Elton John was said to credit the album with breathing fresh life into his career in 2002.

What I Think

Listening to the album you can’t help but feel that you are hearing one of the definitive voices in alt-Country music. The sound is edgy and raw, and it seems he’s working out his thoughts on love and life right in front of you. Listening to Ryan Adams music is calming and engaging at the same time, which is something that’s hard to find in today’s collection of over-mixed and stale music.

Favorite Lyrics

Oh my sweet Carolina
What compels me to go?
Oh my sweet disposition
May you one day carry me home
(from "Oh My Sweet Carolina")

Where It Fits

Heartbreaker won’t be in my weekly rotation (although Adams’ Live at Carnegie Hall may very well be), but I’ll visit it from time to time.  It is refreshingly authentic, soulful, and gritty music that everyone should spend at least a little time with. 

1- Byrd, Steven (2000-09-05). "Ryan Adams: "Heartbreaker". Pitchfork Media.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Middle Of Your Story

I hate the middle of a good book.

Don’t get me wrong, I love good books. I think one of the greatest satisfactions in life is to settle down with a good book on a rainy evening. The beginning of a good book always offers intrigue and excitement. You are quickly meeting new characters, immersing yourself in a different time and place. You get a glimpse of the hero’s hopes and dreams. You can’t wait to see where the story goes. For a while, in most stories, things seem pretty good, but then somewhere near the middle of the story, things go wrong. The mother dies or the bank forecloses. Sickness sets in or the relationship crumbles. Things break down and for a while, and it’s hard to imagine any way this story could have a happy ending. If you stopped reading the book at this point, you would live in constant depression and frustration. But we keep reading, because we hope things will somehow find a way to turn around.

Your life is a story, and you are probably somewhere in the middle of it. We all face days, weeks, or even months when things go wrong. People we love die. Jobs end. Our health fails. In those dark times, it’s hard to imagine that our story could have any sort of good ending. It’s hard to imagine that things could work out or even that we’ll survive. It’s during these dark moments that we begin to wonder if we have failed or somehow let God down.

This is when the words of an early church planter named Paul mean so much for Christians. Paul wrote in a letter to the church in Rome that God takes everything that happens in our life and shapes them to lead to a good place. (Romans 8:28). Your story as a Christian has a good ending. You are a part of a story that is more amazing than you could ever have imagined. I know that the middle parts can be discouraging sometimes, but there is more to your story than what you are enduring today.  So hang in there, and keep living your story. Dark moments today can give way to incredible victories tomorrow.