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?

The Meaning of Pain

This is Easter week and I am totally focused on prepping for Easter, but I want to give you something to think about.

The other day I was listening to a message by Andy Stanley, pastor of North Point in Atlanta, and he made this statement:

Why would God, who did not spare his own Son to save us, spare your marriage, your health, your job, or anything else if losing that thing would draw you to himself? (My words)

Needless to say, I was blown away. In this Easter week, think about how much God gave to draw you to himself. You might find yourself, as I did, viewing your struggles and challenges in a very different and more redemptive light.

What has God used in your life to draw you to himself?

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?

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? 

How to Love Others Better

In order to love others better you need to love God first.

Father and Son

So often in my life I have allowed the approval of others to control how I feel about myself, when God’s opinion is what matters most.

The oxymoron that in order to fully love someone else you need to give them second place in your life behind God is completely true.  No one person can truly fulfill you.  No one person can truly fill your heart.  No one person can perfectly love you.

Except God.

God loves unconditionally, gives grace to those who seek him out, and never fails.  God made you and me, and he knows the condition of our hearts better than we do ourselves.  Naturally, then, he is going to be able to meet our needs better than anyone else.

Once you have submitted control of your life to God and are completely relying on his view of you, then, and only then, will you be able to fully love someone else.

Everyone else is broken just like you and me, and everyone else is looking for fulfillment just like you and me.  You and I know that we cannot fulfill someone else’s every need, so when someone else puts that pressure on us we fold.

But when a God-reliant person meets another God-reliant person, expectations for the relationship settle into their proper place.  Ultimate fulfillment is expected from God, and companionship for the journey is expected from the relationship.

Companionship does not mean perfection.  Companionship means two God-redeemed broken people walking the path of life together and helping each other when the going gets tough.

Christ modeled companionship when he stepped out of heaven and came to earth as a child to walk alongside of us.  In our brokenness and sin he came down and gave us a hand up.

If you want to love others better this Christmas and throughout your life,

  1. Seek God for true fulfillment.
  2. Become a true companion on the journey.

Where are you seeking fulfillment that can only come from God?  How can you become a better companion to those closest to you?

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

We have all heard about the theology of the Trinity in evangelical Christianity.  Whether or not you support this foundational belief is not the focus of this blog.

Did you know, though, that there is another trinity in life?  I call it the holy trinity of relationships.

Humans, by nature, were made for connection.  The statement, “No man is an island,” is foundational in many ways, one being the fact that every person needs relationship in order to thrive.

Before we talk about the trinity, the three relationships you need to have in your life, let me say this.  Without a meaningful, grace-based relationship with God these other three will be insufficient.  While interpersonal relationships are critical, a relationship with God is absolutely essential.

I am talking about this subject not because I have a psychology degree (the LAST thing I want) or because I am a counselor or because I have my life figured out.  I have discovered these relationships are necessary for me to lead a fulfilled and overcoming life.  Throughout my divorce and difficult times in life one or more of these relationships sustained and encouraged me.

The Holy Trinity of Relationships

Close Friends

Everyone needs two or three close, intimate, know-everything-about-you friends.  I am talking about friends who support you through thick and thin, who listen more than they talk, who cry and mourn with you, and who celebrate as loudly as you do when something beautiful happens.  Close friends have to be truly selfless people.  The trick is that you have to be truly selfless in order to attract those kinds of people to yourself.

Throughout my separation and divorce one friend of mine (you know who you are) met with me for lunch every Thursday and just listened.  He had been a pastor for many years and had a lot of experience encouraging people, but he simply listened and spoke only when needed.  He even picked up the tab often because he knew I was short on money.  I am eternally grateful to this man who continues to be one of my closest friends even though we are a thousand miles apart.

Mentors

A mentor is someone familiar with your walk of life and who is about 10 years older than you.  They have been down the road you are walking and can speak wisdom into areas of life you are still discovering for yourself.

Around 10 years ago God brought a mentor into my life.  This man is about 10 years older than me and has been in worship ministry for many years.  He also has a doctorate in composition and understands personal struggle.  Throughout my ministry life and throughout my separation and divorce we have talked and collaborated and encouraged each other, and he has guided me in many decisions.  I am so grateful for him.

Mentors and close friends are hard to find, but most people agree that you need them.  The next relationship, however, can be much easier to find; this relationship requires a lot of humility, however.

Counselors

Many of us could benefit greatly from some time with a godly, encouraging, but strong counselor who can speak into areas of life we do not understand.  Seeing a counselor requires you to admit you need someone, however, and you have to invest financially.

Warning: Once you decide to see a counselor, you need to be willing to open every closet and corner of yourself for your time to be truly worthwhile.  Some see a counselor but hold back certain pieces of information.  In that case you might as well take your cash and light it on fire.  The counselor will only be able to provide moderately helpful information if you withhold a part of yourself from him.

I will admit that I have been reluctant to see a counselor at times.  I can say unequivocally, though, that my relationship with my counselor is possibly the most influential relationship I have had in my life aside from my family.  He has given me encouragement and challenge, grace and firmness, truth and compassion as I have needed it, and I am eternally grateful to him.

Every one of us needs to have close friends and mentors, and most of us would benefit from having a counselor as well.  I know I have.

What relationship are you missing in your life?  What are you going to do about it?