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?

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Re-Post: Do Shortcuts Work in Relationships?

Throughout the month of April I am taking a break from writing in order to focus on other things.  As a result I am re-posting some of my most popular articles.

In any sort of relationship you will face conflict.

  • “Your comments made me feel inferior.”
  • “Oops.  I forgot to pick up the keys to the car.”
  • “You were not listening to me; I did not feel like you were on my side.”

We are patently human.  You will regularly experience conflict and tension.  The importance of conflict is not in the nature of the conflict but in the nature of your response.

Our tendency as humans is to try to find the shortcut to resolution.  My natural tendency is to placate, to try to make the other person feel better.  What is usually necessary is some time, discomfort and wrestling before bringing the issue to a full resolution.  I personally have to choose to enter that zone of discomfort for my benefit and the benefit of the relationship.

We all have choices every day.

  • You can move towards someone or away from them.
  • You can engage conflict or avoid it.  (Warning: Avoided conflict will always find you somewhere else.)
  • You can be stingy or generous.

To be human is to choose.

Here is the choice we each need to make:

  • Will we be the people who stick with a relationship for the long haul, through miscommunication, pain, hurt feelings, and scarcity, as well as through abundance, laughter, and celebration?
  • Or will we be the people who avoid conflict and pain and look for relational shortcuts?

Shortcuts do not give lasting rewards, but discipline and perseverance pay off long into the future.

What choice are you going to make today?

What Is Courage?

When I think of courage I often think of war heroes charging the banks of Normandy who died before their feet even reached dry ground.  I think of the soldiers raising the flag on Iwo Jima.  I think of muscle-bound athletes, boundary shattering geniuses, visionary missionaries, and brave teachers in movies like Freedom Writers.

Those people are incredibly brave and courageous, and I am greatly inspired by their examples, but they do not completely define courage.

Recently God has been bringing parts of my past to light and helping me to find more freedom.  I wrote about one aspect of this in my March 12 post What to Do with Your Past.

Discovering a place in my life that needs more freedom can actually be scary for me.

Not long ago an unexpected event brought old experiences to light, old experiences I had not thought about in quite a while; years maybe.  The unexpected surfacing of those experiences from deep within my psyche was not only surprising but also disturbing and disorienting.

I was feeling a lot of fear.

I thought I had dealt with those experiences, prayed over them, and received healing for them.  I thought they were archived never to be seen except in highlight reels and then only if absolutely necessary.

I was only partly right.  I had done all I had known to do, but there was more work to do.

I had two options as I saw it:

  1. Go around the issues and stuff my reaction.
  2. Go through the issues and trust God to make me stronger through it.

In the past I might have chosen Option 1, but I have slowly been learning that better things lie through an issue than around an issue.  In fact, if you go around the issue you will probably find yourself running up against the same issue again and essentially running in circles.

My choice really had to do with how I decided to react to my fear.

Earlier this year Michael Hyatt wrote a blog post entitled Courage Is Not the Absence of Fear.  As I thought about his post and walked through this experience I came up with my own definition for courage.  This definition is probably not original with me, but here it is just the same:

Courage is perseverance in the face of fear.

You and I do not have to charge a bunker or break a record or leap off a mountain in a glide suit in order to demonstrate courage.  All we have to do is take the next step in the right direction in spite of our fear.

By the way, I decided to walk through my issues despite my fear, and the freedom I found on the other side was breathtaking.  God came through!  (Who is surprised here?)

Where in your life do you need to persevere in the face of your fear?

Do Shortcuts Work in Relationships?

In any sort of relationship you will face conflict.

  • “Your comments made me feel inferior.”
  • “Oops.  I forgot to pick up the keys to the car.”
  • “You were not listening to me; I did not feel like you were on my side.”

We are patently human.  You will regularly experience conflict and tension.  The importance of conflict is not in the nature of the conflict but in the nature of your response.

Our tendency as humans is to try to find the shortcut to resolution.  My natural tendency is to placate, to try to make the other person feel better.  What is usually necessary is some time, discomfort and wrestling before bringing the issue to a full resolution.  I personally have to choose to enter that zone of discomfort for my benefit and the benefit of the relationship.

We all have choices every day.

  • You can move towards someone or away from them.
  • You can engage conflict or avoid it.  (Warning: Avoided conflict will always find you somewhere else.)
  • You can be stingy or generous.

To be human is to choose.

Here is the choice we each need to make:

  • Will we be the people who stick with a relationship for the long haul, through miscommunication, pain, hurt feelings, and scarcity, as well as through abundance, laughter, and celebration?
  • Or will we be the people who avoid conflict and pain and look for relational shortcuts?

Shortcuts do not give lasting rewards, but discipline and perseverance pay off long into the future.

What choice are you going to make today?

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?

Four Great Times NOT to Make a Decision

One of the most important skills we can learn is when and when not to make critical decisions in our lives.  By important, I do not mean what shoes to wear (ladies) or what sports game to watch (men). I am talking about decisions that have the potential to set or wreck the direction of your life.

In 2009 I went through a divorce, and the emotional rollercoaster since then has been enormous.  Soaring moments of success have been followed by abysmal depths of despair, both personally and professionally.

I went from being the leader of a large worship ministry to a part-time music director.  After having worked back up to a full time music pastor position, I needed to move out of state.

After moving I was not doing what I really loved; instead of leading worship and music I was laying stone.  Then I transitioned to a part time position playing organ and conducting choir, while continuing to do masonry part time.

In addition to masonry and my role as organist and choir conductor, now I also do copywriting, arranging, and mentoring.

In another post I will talk about how God has used every one of these life changes to radically transform and grow me emotionally and spiritually. 

That transformation, however, was accompanied by wild swings in my emotions and in my walk with God.

In the middle of this chaos I have often returned to an Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) guideline.

Using the acronym “HALT,” AA teaches men and women to make decisions at appropriate times and to avoid the temptation to return to alcohol.  I have found this tool enormously helpful when I have been trying to manage life in difficult times.

Here are four great times not to make a decision.

When I am Hungry.  When I am hungry I lose the ability to think creatively, problem solve, and focus.  I know that I need a lot of protein to give my mind staying power, so I keep a few relatively healthy snacks on hand like beef sticks (I said relatively), protein bars, and almonds.

Know what your body needs to function properly and keep things on hand to take care of yourself.

When I am Angry.  When I am emotionally overwhelmed, worried, angry, or experiencing anxiety, I lose my ability to clearly distinguish how I really feel about an issue.  I am learning in confrontational situations to keep my mouth shut and simply say, “I don’t know what to think right now.  Can I get back to you on that?”  That way the person knows that I heard them, but also that I need time to process what I have heard in order to give them a good and honest answer.

Learn what situations and issues set you off emotionally and decide ahead of time how you are going to respond.  When you are in the middle of an emotional situation is not the time to be thinking about how you should respond.

When I am Lonely.  Of these four situations loneliness is my biggest trigger.  God wired us to be in close loving relationship with him and with others, and when we do not have those relationships we look for something or someone else to fill the void.  That “filler” can be alcohol, drugs, porn, ice cream, self-pity, or any number of things.

Loneliness is particularly an issue for those who are single or single again, or who are in an emotionally estranged relationship.  Don’t be naïve.  Learn your preferred “filler” and decide ahead of time how you are going to deal with it. 

When I am Tired.  If I am tired mentally, emotionally, spiritually, or physically, I am not at my best.  Tired people do stupid things.  After 10 pm my mind can go to mush in the simplest discussions.

Know how much sleep you need at night and get it.  Take a 20 minute nap at lunch.  Take a walk to rest your mind.

By recognizing when you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely or Tired and by responding wisely you can avoid making costly mistakes and decisions.

As a Christ follower I will also say that just following “HALT” is not enough.  I have found that I am much more peaceful and clear-headed when I begin the day by reading Scripture and speaking with God. 

When life is complex, God remains simple.  He loves me, and that is enough.

How have you avoided making mistakes and bad decisions when you have been Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired?

The 6 D’s of Communication

Caveat: I am not a licensed therapist, and I don’t play one on TV. Read at your own risk.

Yesterday, at the age of 99, my grandmother passed away and went to be with the Lord. She had a wonderful and full life, and she had a great impact on me.

Her age also got me to thinking about when she was born (1913).

A lot has changed in 99 years:

  • The crossword puzzle was invented in 1913.
  • The Wright brothers flew their plane only 10 years earlier.
  • Adhesive tape would not be invented for another 10 years.
  • The Band-Aid would not be invented until 1920.

In 1913 relatively few methods of communication existed, but today the list of methods is long and varied:

  • Email
  • Texting/Messaging
  • Face-to-face conversation
  • Phone
  • Skype
  • Snail mail
  • Twitter
  • Facebook
  • and many more . .

Since (thanks to Apple) we have all of these options at our fingertips, what methods of communication should we choose?

If my office is a 2 minute walk from my colleague’s office and I need to tell them something brief, how should I do that?

If I have to challenge someone on a difficult topic, what is the healthiest method to use? When should I confront them, and where?

I have struggled long and hard to communicate in the right way, at the right time, and in the right place with my loved ones and close colleagues.

If you are struggling with the same issue, here are a few things to consider.

Consider the geographical and emotional distance.

Geography: If someone lives in another part of the country you obviously are not going to be able to talk in person, but how about using Skype? If you need to talk to your colleague down the hall, what is stopping you from taking a brief walk? You need the exercise, and in person conversations mean you can see someone’s body language, which is at least 70% of communication.

Emotions: Never communicate when you are overheated emotionally. Put some distance between you and the event so that you can communicate clearly and kindly. For some things all you may need is a minute or two, and for others you may need a night’s rest. Just don’t wait too long.

Consider the details.

Don’t attempt to have a detailed conversation via texting or email or Facebook messaging. You need to see someone’s body language, and you need to be able to enter into a deep discussion without being delayed by typing . . . and waiting . . . for a response . . . and then . . . getting the rest . . . of the message.

Find a place where you can sit down together and not be distracted, and make certain you have set aside enough time so you are not thinking about where you need to be next.

Consider the delicacy.

If you know that what you want to communicate is sensitive and could bring an emotional response, avoid technology. Period.

A friend once told me that if you need to use more than one smiley face 😄 in a text to lighten up your otherwise heavy or difficult message you should stop texting and pick up the phone. That rule has been extremely helpful to me.

Also, the more delicate your conversation the more diligent you should be to speak in “I” statements. “When you do such-and-such, I feel this way;” not “You are arrogant and I’m angry about it.”

Is it a decision?

Decisions must be made in person, face-to-face, unless emergency and distance prevent that. Truth be told, there are few emergencies in life (a sale at your favorite technology store or shoe store is NOT an emergency!).

Decisions must also be made with all of the key personnel present. If someone cannot make the meeting, don’t make the decision. If you are overhauling something, always involve the person or people affected. Otherwise you risk division and bitterness.

Consider the delivery.

Give the grace you wish to receive. Just yesterday a drummer called me and said he might not be able to make rehearsal because of a family change in transportation. I had the choice to either get in his face or to help him. I gladly jumped in the car and made the hour round trip, and the resulting connection and camaraderie was awesome.

We as leaders can get so frustrated with feeling like volunteers are bailing on us. Just remember you are in ministry for people and not to turn out a product.

Finally, consider the potential for damage.

In relation to what medium you use, do you really want to use Twitter to ream someone out? Is Facebook the best place to vent your frustration with your job? Do half a billion people really need to know what is going on in your bedroom? Really?

Communication is a learned art for everyone and has the potential to build up or destroy relationships and the people you love.

It’s up to you.

How can you communicate more effectively and compassionately with your colleagues and loved ones?