Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Part 2

I have found that many of the relationship problems I face relate in some way to incorrect or incomplete communication. I do not say what I need to say, or when I say what I am thinking I say it unkindly. When someone else speaks to me I do not hear them clearly or I assume what they mean rather than truly understanding them.

Communication is key. As John Mayer says, “Say what you need to say.”

So why do we fall short in this area so often? If we know what the problem is, why can’t we fix it?

The Core of the Matter

Ever since Adam and Eve sinned the first time we have been born flawed. We are sinners, without hope on our own. As God says in Isaiah 53:6, “We have turned—every one—to his own way.”

We mean well. When we see a problem we dig in to fix it. We read books, talk to counselors, journal, change what we say, talk more and listen harder.

Sometimes we see improvement. If we do it is usually short lived; then we return to a version of who we were all along.

We cannot make these kinds of changes on our own. We need Gospel, good news, that only Christ can give us, but we still try to “pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps.” We are Americans. We are self-made people, or so we think.

True Change

If we cannot effectively change ourselves, how do we change?

  1. Accept Christ’s solution. Christ suffered, died and rose to break the sin-curse. The sinless Son of God died for our sin and rose to break the power of sin. You must first surrender your life to him in order to break the chokehold of sin.
  2. Accept Christ’s love. You need to realize that God loves you just as you are, in all your faults and sin. You do not need to change to be loved.
  3. Accept responsibility. Confess to God and to whomever else has been affected your failure and struggle to communicate or listen well. Own your part of the problem.
  4. Accept help. Ask God to change you, then read the books, visit the counselor, journal, and have someone keep you accountable. The difference is that you realize God has to change you at your core in order for the change to be permanent. You are doing what you know to do, but God is doing the heart work to make your work stick.
  5. Rinse and repeat.

You are still a flawed human being and you will make mistakes, so you will have to do this process repeatedly. You will sin again because you are not perfect, but you can know you are loved and that God is working in you and that God will ultimately make you perfect when he returns.

We, as believers, have hope. We can truly learn to “Say what we need to say,” with God’s help.

Are you still trying to change yourself, or have you asked Christ to change your heart?

Two Essential Truths for a Fulfilling Life, Part 1

Conflict is not fun. We all know this, because this is why we shy away from creating conflict. Sometimes creating conflict, however, is the best way to show love.

Christ and Conflict

Jesus intentionally created conflict.

  • The law of the Pharisees said healing was work and, therefore, should not be done on a Sunday. Jesus healed anyways right in front of them.
  • Any form of harvesting grain was forbidden on the Sabbath, yet Jesus allowed the disciples to pluck and eat grain as they walked.
  • The temple leaders allowed selling animals and other commerce in the temple courts. Jesus made a whip, flipped tables, and rebuked them.
  • At one point Jesus proclaimed that his followers would need to eat his flesh and drink his blood.

Why did the Prince of Peace create so much conflict?

Today we do not see creating conflict as Christ-like, but nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus created conflict often. He created a different kind of conflict, however, than we often create.

We are most familiar with un-Christ-like conflict. We argue and fight because our expectations are not met, we say unkind things because we are angry, we take what is not ours. We armchair quarterback life, proclaiming how we would do things differently and how much better life would be if everyone did things our way.

We are selfish, prideful people. Jesus was not.

Jesus never argued selfishly, snapped angrily at someone, or felt like he was entitled to anything. He never got upset because one of his expectations was not met, and he never said, “I told you so.”

Jesus used conflict as a tool to initiate healthy change in people’s lives and to open people’s eyes to truth.

  • Jesus healed on the Sabbath because the Pharisees had turned a day of rest into a burden.
  • Jesus allowed his disciples to pluck grain on the Sabbath because the Pharisees were more focused on outward obedience than on inward surrender.
  • Jesus drove the money changers and business people out of the temple because the leaders were more concerned about making money than they were on prayer and the health of people’s hearts.
  • Jesus told his followers to eat his flesh and drink his blood because he knew that many of his followers were only there for the show.

Creating Conflict Correctly

Proverbs 27:6 (AMP) says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are lavish and deceitful.”

Sometimes the only way forward in life requires conflict. That conflict may be difficult, but it is the only way to resolve an issue. According to this proverb we prove ourselves to be true friends when we are not afraid to wound our friends. An enemy will try to cover over an issue and brush it under the rug in order to keep things pleasant and enjoyable.

I have to admit that many times I have been more of an enemy than a friend because I was too afraid to bring up a difficult issue. I valued my own comfort more than the health of a situation.

  • When we are offended and we are not able to resolve it internally within a short period of time, God calls us to speak up about how we were offended. The discussion may be hard and uncomfortable, but if the conflict is handled with grace and humility the result will be a healthier relationship.
  • When a co-worker does not follow through on an assignment, we love them best and we are better businesspeople when we go directly to them and speak about it.
  • When we are leading a rehearsal and someone messes up a part, everyone needs us to step up and kindly correct the mistake.

Conflict is necessary for growth, and when we avoid conflict we are impeding our growth and the growth of everyone involved.

Two notes are in order.

  1. Do not create conflict with a person who has proven to react in an abusive way physically, verbally, or emotionally. Get counsel and help in those situations before engaging the person at fault.
  2. Remember that a problem usually has two parts, which means that we must always remain humble and willing to own our part of the problem, no matter how small.

Where do you need to demonstrate love by being willing to create necessary conflict?

How to Guarantee Good Communication

We all want to guarantee that we are coming across clearly, that we are being understood. Truthfully, though, we are often misunderstood.

When we are misunderstood we tend to have two reactions:

1. We blame. Often our first instinct is to blame the other party for not caring or for not being open minded. We communicated our ideas well, so goes our reasoning, so there must be a problem on the receiving end.

2. We get defensive. When the other party pushes the blame back on us, we get defensive and start protecting #1, or ourselves. Again we assume the worst: the other party is selfishly considering their own preferences above ours.

Not everyone responds this way, however, and so there is hope.

Recently a friend responded to a misunderstanding by walking back into the situation and doing three things. These are steps anyone can follow.

1. Move towards the other party. Whether you feel the other party was in the right or the wrong, you will only resolve the misunderstanding if you choose to move toward them. Do not wait for them to make the first move.

2. Say how you feel. Using “I” statements, tell the other party how you feel. Example: “When you did this I felt this way.” Misunderstandings in part come from an improper understanding of each party’s feelings and point of view. They will not know how they came across unless you tell them.

3. Take responsibility for the outcome. You must identify what you can do to improve the situation and take responsibility to make it happen. There will almost always be something you can do, and you must do it whether or not the other party reciprocates.

You can never guarantee how someone will respond, but you can guarantee that you took responsibility and did your part, and I have my friend to thank for that reminder.

What misunderstanding do you need to move toward and resolve?

Do Stupid Questions Exist?

Note:  The first edition of this post was rather harsh and judgmental, which is ironic considering the topic of this post!  I apologize for that.  I have re-written this post to hopefully better communicate the heart of what I was trying to say.

Chances are either someone has said to you or you have said to someone else, “Well, that was a stupid question!”  The problem is, defining a “stupid” question is difficult; people who have been accused of asking “stupid” questions tend to refrain from asking really good questions because they do not know what constitutes a “stupid” question.

So you may ask, “What is a ‘stupid’ question?”  I’m so glad you asked.

Usually “stupid” questions include the following:

  • Rhetorical questions, or questions asking the obvious.
  • Questions unrelated to the matter at hand.
  • Questions that are impractical.
  • Questions that are embarrassing for either the person asking the question or the person being asked.
  • Questions that have been asked before, usually recently and by the same person.
  • Questions that are naïve.

I really think that by designating questions as “stupid” we are really trying to be funny and even helpful, not trying to be mean.  Unfortunately instead we tend to come across in some pretty negative ways:

  • Self-centered.  What we are really saying: “Don’t ask questions that I think are ridiculous.”
  • Condescending.  What we are really saying: “You are immature and childish.”
  • Prideful.  What we are really saying: “I know which questions are reasonable and which ones are not.”
  • Judgmental.  What we are really saying: “You are embarrassing.”
  • Insensitive.  What we are really saying: “I don’t care why you asked that question.”

Calling a question “stupid” communicates to other people that we do not care about them.

If you want other people to feel like you care about them, try doing the opposite of calling a question “stupid:”

  • Welcome every question.
  • Ask why they are asking that particular question.
  • Demonstrate empathy by putting yourself in their shoes.

I am certain many times Jesus had every right to say to his disciples, “Now that was a doozie of a stupid question,” but he didn’t.  He spoke to the root of the question and gently guided them in the right direction.

Jesus does the same for you and me.  I am human, and so are you, and so is everyone else.  Let’s show the same grace to each other.

In which relationships do you need to show more grace?  Do you need to ask forgiveness of anyone? 

God’s Call to Action

For decades now I have been praying the armor of God in Ephesians 6 over myself nearly every day, and today I realized something new.

Ephesians 6:14-17 (NIV 1984) says:

Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist, with the breastplate of righteousness in place, and with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace.  In addition to all this, take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one.  Take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Here are the components mentioned in the above passage, with my non-seminary observations:

  • Truth.  This is God’s perspective on anything and everything.
  • Righteousness.  This is right standing with God, which we receive only through the grace and sacrifice of Christ.
  • The Gospel of Peace.  The good news is that God has reconciled us to himself through his Son, Jesus Christ, thereby giving us peace with him.
  • Faith.  Hebrews 11 says “faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” (NIV 1984)  While my thought had always been that faith is the one “act,” if you will, that Christians “do” when they accept Christ as Savior, it was pointed out to me recently that in Ephesians 2:8 the grammar actually states faith itself is a gift of God.
  • Salvation.  Again, this is the work of God in our lives; we cannot save ourselves.
  • The Spirit, or the Word of God.  God’s word, the Scriptures, penetrates to the core of our soul and reveals God’s truth through the Holy Spirit.

In the past month or two I have become more aware of how every component of God’s armor is something he does for us.  This morning, however, something else became clear to me:

Our shoes, the gospel of peace, give the expectation that we will spread peace to each other and with God everywhere we go through the good news of what God has done in our lives.

Think about that for a moment.  Do you bring peace to every situation you enter?  Does your story of what God has done for you permeate everything you do?  When people look at your life, do they see someone responding to God’s gift of peace with him by acting peacefully with everyone, or someone taking advantage of the peace of God in their own lives but refusing to allow peace in their everyday relationships?

I would propose that putting on the shoes of the gospel of peace is similar to wielding the sword of the Spirit; they are both offensive, not defensive, parts of our lives.

  • We are to engage culture, not retreat from it.
  • We are to take steps of faith, not simply hold our position.
  • We are to enter into conflict, not avoid it.
  • We are to forgive, not hold a grudge.
  • We are to speak and act peacefully, and not just when it is convenient.
  • We are to share what God has done for us, not keep it to ourselves.

For me entering into conflict rather than avoiding it is something I regularly have to choose; it does not come naturally.  Sharing my faith outside of church is hard for me, not easy.  Taking steps of faith is difficult for me.  I am grateful, however, that God has been helping me to grow in these areas.

God will help you in your unique situation; all you have to do is ask.

In which of these areas do you need to grow?

A Leader’s Two Best Friends

As I mentioned previously I recently began a new position as Interim Director of Worship at Covenant Life Church in Sarasota, FL.  This position is my first step back into senior level leadership since 2009, and while I am excited about what God is going to do, I also know I have challenges ahead of me.

As a result I have been spending a lot of time writing and thinking about what it takes to grow a worship ministry.  So far I have written about

In order to lead well, however, I am finding I need to have close friends.  These friends are not the financial officer of my church, the executive pastor, the senior pastor, or even the chairman of the elder board, although good relationships with these leaders are highly necessary.

I have written several times about my mistakes when I began a new position in 2010.  I plowed ahead with my agenda, pulling everyone with me.  When I finally began to listen to my volunteers I was able to make changes and avoid burning everyone out.  I would have done well to engage the help of two friends right from the start.

These two friends are Questions and Observation.

Questions

Making questions your friend means focusing on asking questions rather than making statements.  Questions do several things:

  • Invite interaction.  A good question fosters communication and collaborative effort.
  • Demonstrate humility.  Asking a question shows people you do not have it all figured out and you are willing to learn.
  • Unearth information.  Obviously, asking a question guarantees you will learn more about those around you.  Refusing to ask questions prevents you from truly understanding your surroundings.
  • Direct discussion.  Sometimes the best way to lead a discussion is to asking a carefully crafted question.
  • Create ownership.  If you engage a volunteer in conversation with a question, that volunteer will own the ensuing decision.

Observation

Observing people and systems reveals critical information you will not discover by reading the employee handbook or studying staff biographies.  Here are just a few benefits of observation:

  • Reveals hidden attitudes.  Body language comprises the majority of our communication.  Watching body language in a conversation gives a much better picture of what the other person is thinking and feeling.
  • Reveals unresolved issues.  Avoidance, for instance, can communicate unresolved tension or a lack of interdependence between separate ministries or departments. Other behaviors such as sarcasm, avoiding eye contact, or abrupt communication can also tell you that something is not right.
  • Reveals broken systems.  If I observe, for instance, that the song lyrics displayed on Sunday are not in the correct order, I discover that either I did not give the proper information to the projectionist, the projectionist was not at rehearsal to fine tune the lyrics, the projectionist messed up during the service, or I made a change from the stage and the projectionist was not able to follow.  That observation can lead to a discussion that will improve the flow of information and guarantee better projection on Sunday.
  • Reveals pain.  If you observe that a co-worker or volunteer is more subdued than usual, a good question can often lead to an encouraging discussion and even prayer.  Worship leaders need to be particularly observant of the people they are leading in worship in order to respond and lead more effectively during the service.  Many people are hurting and need to know they are not alone.
  • Shows that you are listening.  In order to observe you have to stop talking and listen.  I am amazed at what I hear and understand when I shut my mouth and listen.  People love a listener, as I am certain you do, too.
  • Reveals what is going well.  As a teacher I was often reminded to “Catch someone doing something right.”  This rule applies in leadership as well.  Catch your volunteers doing something right and congratulate them.  Smile and cheer when your choir shapes a phrase correctly.  Be a cheerleader for your volunteers, friends and family and they will follow you wherever you go.

What other “friends” have helped you in leadership?