3 Truths About New Beginnings

OK, so it’s after 11 pm on Friday.  I’m tired and I really want to go to bed, but I have this thing about following through on commitments and I have committed to writing three times a week: Monday, Wednesday and Friday.  So here goes.

Recently I began a new position and I have been writing recently about beginning new things and growing a worship ministry.  Perhaps a little Friday retrospective is in order.

What truths have I learned about starting new things?

  1. There will be fabulous “head-in-the-cloud” times.  If you do not feel ecstatic about starting a new venture, ask yourself why you are doing it at all.  New things require enough of someone who is already psyched up.  If you are not pumped up about your new opportunity you are much more likely to crash and burn.
    1. Use these times to refuel your energy and your vision.
    2. While remaining practical use your fresh energy to scrutinize your path forward and make necessary improvements.
    3. Thank God and remain grateful for this beautiful moment in life.  Scripture says every good thing comes from God.
  2. There will be hard times.  For every up there is a down.  In other words, welcome to life as we know it.  If you are looking for an opportunity with no occasional down side, you will spend your life disappointed.  On the other hand, if you are in a situation where you are not experiencing occasional setbacks or challenges, I question your view of reality.
    1. Use these times to remember the fabulous times you have had.  Difficult times make the good ones even better.
    2. What can you learn from this difficulty?  You are ripe for learning when you are in a difficult place.
    3. Difficult times keep us humble and focused on the sovereignty, strength, and provision of God.  Instead of complaining about your situation, thank God that at least he knows what is going on and take comfort in that.
  3. It’s worth it.  Jesus says, “Consider the cost.”  Remember that every good thing is worth the sacrifice it takes.
    1. In order to be a good father you have to set your own needs aside as you care for your children.  The payoff is a healthy family.
    2. In order to be a good husband and partner you need to lead as a servant.  The payoff is a healthy relationship.
    3. In order to live debt-free you have to discipline yourself to live by a budget.  The payoff is a financially stress-free life where you have more money to give.
    4. In order to lead a ministry of any kind you have to take responsibility for hard decisions.  The payoff is seeing true growth in the lives of people.

This year has become the year of re-entry for me:

  • Re-entry into relationship
  • Re-entry into senior leadership
  • Re-entry into dependence on God

I am so blessed by what God has brought my way this year that the occasional challenges are gifts to embrace rather than mines to be avoided.  Challenges mean I am engaged and moving forward in life, and that’s the way I like it.

I would not change a thing right now.  That’s the truth.  God and life are truly good.

What have you learned this past week?

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[Repost] The Best of 2011-12: 7 Steps That Can Rescue You and Your Marriage

Just over a year ago I began blogging.  This is the second of five posts that will be re-posts of the top five blog posts this past year.  Thanks for making this year great by reading what I have written and commenting.  I appreciate it!

When it comes to communication, I already have two strikes against me: I’m a guy and an introvert.

Guys are notorious for unclear speech when they do speak, and for not speaking enough. Introverts like to process by themselves and avoid interaction with people.

Do some swift math and you will rightly conclude that communication has been a challenge for me all of my life, and will probably continue that way for the rest of my life.

Here are some of my past pitfalls.

I don’t communicate for fear of hurting myself or my wife. My internal processor determines that my wife will respond a certain way; therefore I do not say certain things to avoid hurting her or myself.

I communicate unclearly for fear of hurting my wife or myself. My internal filters guide me to soften and blur the edges on what I say in order to avoid conflict, which only results in completely obscuring my meaning and intent.

I communicate harshly. This seems like an oxymoron, but because I fear hurting myself and my wife, and because I avoid conflict, when I do get the truth out my words can often be harsh because I am working so hard to communicate what I know needs to be said.

I am unable to verbalize my feelings and thoughts. Because I am filtering everything I say based on the supposed feelings and preferences of my wife I eventually replace my preferences with her perceived preferences.

Confused yet? Have a headache yet? Exactly. Fear of conflict, fear of getting hurt, and fear of hurting your spouse’s feelings (wanting to please) will introduce tension and frustration into your life and marriage. This tension and frustration combined with a complete focus on the happiness of your spouse will quickly blind you to yourself and make the simplest questions (What do you want to eat?) impossible to answer.

Familiar with this scenario?

Left unchecked these issues can ruin your marriage. Address them and you will see your intimacy soar.

Here are several strategies for counteracting these pitfalls.

1. Get help. If you are stuck in the mindless circle of pleasing others, find a counselor or friend who is very good at seeing through your verbal masks and who is able to challenge you. Trust me. You cannot get out of this cycle by yourself.

2. Pray. Like I said, you can’t make a change by yourself. God created you and made you unique. Ask him to reveal to you who you really are and to give you the courage to be that person.

3. Observe yourself. My counselor gave me this valuable assignment at our first session. For a week pay close attention to your moods and feelings and record them in a journal with your opinion on their origins.

4. Be honest with yourself. Admit the truth about what you have observed. You have to tell yourself the truth before you can tell the truth to your spouse.

If you have been hiding behind masks for very long this exposure will be very difficult. You will make a lot of mistakes and will probably need to ask forgiveness from your spouse for foot-in-mouth disease. Just remember that God accepts us just as we are, so we should do the same.

5. Value yourself. Value yourself enough to say and do what you need to say and do in order to be at peace with yourself and God. If you base your words and actions on what your spouse thinks (or what you think they think!!), you are placing the value of yourself below them. You are equals.

For all of you devout Christians out there, “considering others better than yourself,” as Paul puts it, does not mean ignoring what you think and feel at the expense of others. He was talking about humility and deference, something completely different.

6. Set boundaries. Allow the opinions of your spouse to penetrate only so far into your psyche. Far enough for you to consider the validity of what they are saying, but shallow enough that their opinion never comes close to compromising your beliefs about yourself.

7. Love through honesty. The greatest love you can show to your spouse is to be honest with them. In a world where everyone is selling something or pretending to be someone they’re not your spouse needs you to lovingly speak your mind, to be real, to be strong enough to take a little blowback and conflict.

How are you going to love your spouse more today?

How (Not) to Initiate Change

I saw this sign at a restaurant and I just loved it.

Sometimes the best example is failure.  Nothing speaks louder than, “Well, that didn’t work!”

The same goes in life; we learn the most from our failures, as long as we are willing to re-visit them in a healthy frame of mind.

With those thoughts in mind, here are a few ways not to initiate change at your church.

1.  Sign your notes to the pastor, “Your thorn in the flesh.”  I kid you not.  I had one lady in the choir who would smile and give me “suggestions;” then she would sign the note just that way, as if criticism was a spiritual gift.

Why not send your pastor an encouraging note and thank them for what they are doing right?  If you have a concern, take him or her out to lunch and have a healthy conversation.

2.  Yell.  Loudly.  In.  Your.  Leader’s.  Face.  This happened to me once.  One of my older musicians got up in my face because I refused to allow them into a confidential meeting I was preparing to lead.  I am not a superhuman.  I left the meeting in the hands of my elder and went home crying.

The best way to get your leader’s ear is to speak more quietly and sparingly than anyone else.  Leaders become masters at tuning out noise because they deal with it all of the time.  I take notice of the people who listen well and then interject thoughtful comments.

3.  Pass around a letter to gather support for your cause while the pastor is away.  Several people used this ploy in different ways during my tenure at one church.  Nothing does more to support Satan’s work and spread division.  Unless you make the letter anonymous, which is like lobbing a grenade into an unsuspecting crowd.

In contrast, Matthew 18 gives us a model for resolving conflict.  First, go by yourself to the person with whom you have an issue.  Deal with it directly rather than mulling it over with a few sympathetic friends.  If you cannot resolve the issue, then go again and bring one or two godly friends (not bouncers!).  If that still does not work, involve the key church leaders.  Finally, the last resort is to involve the church body as a whole.

4.  Leave in the middle of a rehearsal or meeting because you do not like a decision or comment the leader made.  Instead of punishing the leader for their supposedly errant decision or comment, you are emphasizing your inflexibility, self-centered-ness, and resistance to constructive criticism.

Instead of leaving the scene of the conflict, walk through it together.  Even if you come out agreeing to disagree, you will come out unified and stronger.  Few things in life outside of a bathroom emergency require an immediate exit.

How have you successfully initiated change?

How Do I Make My Volunteers Feel Valued?

Simple.  Value what they value.

“Easier said than done,” you say.

Perhaps, but I doubt it.

Here are some ways to find out what your volunteers value:

  1. Ask them.  I am amazed at how often I or anyone else can miss the obvious.
  2. Remember what you valued when you were a volunteer.  You haven’t been a leader all your life, most likely.  What did you care about when you were just a band member?
  3. Listen to what they talk about.  Again, this is blatantly obvious, but I can miss it sometimes.
  4. Ask them about the best gift they have ever received, and why it was the best gift.

In the past I have found that volunteers value several things.

  1. Time.  Especially with families, time is of the essence, as they say.  One of the best ways you can value your volunteers is by beginning and ending on time.  I try to make it a point to begin on time regardless of whether or not everyone has arrived.  There has to be a benefit to arriving on time or early, and there needs to be a penalty of arriving late, even if the penalty is unspoken.
  2. Appreciation.  Volunteers will pour out their lives for you if you simply thank them sincerely for what they do.  Incidentally, you also need to live out your appreciation.  You can’t bawl out your musician for destroying a musical phrase, then “thank” them for sacrificing their time to be on the team, and then expect them to feel appreciated.  Your attitude and actions, as well as your words, need to be appreciative to them and their families.
  3. Pastoral leadership.  Being a pastor really has nothing to do with ordination or licensure.  Pastoral leadership has everything to do with your heart.  You can be a janitor and also pastor your volunteers; you simply need to care for them, ask them about their lives, pray with them, and follow up on their concerns to see how they are doing.  Just because you are not ordained does not mean you get to care less; you must still pastor your volunteers if you want them to grow and love serving with you.

What do your volunteers value?

To go deeper, check out this post on empathy by Seth Godin, “If I Were You . . .”

If At First You Don’t Succeed, Fail, Fail Again.

I wish someone had told me this is elementary school, don’t you?  I wish someone had told me it was alright to fail, that I most likely WOULD fail.  A lot.  That failure was even necessary.

And I should celebrate it.

Think about it.  When you have you learned the most in your life?

Have you learned the most when you succeeded on a grand scale, or when you have colossally failed?  I would wager you have learned the most in the latter circumstance.

I have.

I tell my musicians that I would rather them make a huge, loud mistake than play or sing timidly and make an unheard mistake.  Here’s why:

  1. I can only help them fix the mistakes I hear.  Timid musicians never improve.  You must risk yourself to improve.
  2. Timid musicians rob us of all the good stuff.  While you play quietly for fear of making a mistake, chances are 75% of what you do will still be good.  Who cares, though?  If you play quietly, I will never hear you.  You might as well turn off your guitar or mouth the words.

When you are tempted to timidly toe dunk into a risky world where you might fail, think about this:

  1. Risk is required for improvement.  Make a mistake.  The worst that could happen is that you could *gasp* find an area to improve.
  2. Don’t selfishly rob us of your successes.  Yes, embracing risk, whatever it is, pretty much guarantees some failure somewhere.  If you shy away from risk for fear of failing, however, you are going to rob us of all your successes along the way.

By the way, I have been thinking about this topic because, well, I need to hear it as much as you do.  So skip the toe dunk for a cannonball, OK?  I’m right there with you.

Where do you need to take a risk even though you might fail?

What Do Andy Stanley, Marketing, and Good Marriages Have in Common?

If you’re thinking that Andy Stanley did a marketing campaign about a marriage series, perhaps he did, but that is not the link.

Better yet, perhaps Andy Stanley used a marketing scheme when he was pursuing marriage and looking for a partner.

Nope.  Creative thinking, though.  I’d love to read THAT story.

No, Andy Stanley, marketing and marriage share one thing:

Generosity.

Huh?

That’s right.

Michael Hyatt, in his blog post 3 Characteristics of the New Marketing, said:

The new marketing is fueled by generosity. As we were looking over the menu (at The Southern in Nashville), the server brought us free BBQ Shrimp and Oyster Southern appetizers. This was totally unexpected—and wonderfully delicious.

In today’s environment, the way to create wow experiences is to define your customers’ expectations then exceed them. This is exactly what our server did. As it turns out, “It is more blessed to give that to receive” is a brilliant marketing strategy.

Websites like Copyblogger talk all the time about how good content + generosity = successful marketing, which is completely the opposite of old/traditional marketing (think car salesman hard selling you on a lemon).  In the post A 7-Step Guide to Mind Control: How to Quit Begging and Make People Want to Help You, Jonathan Morrow says:

This isn’t about “You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours.” It’s about generosity so overwhelming they can’t say no.

In a top message series at Northpoint Community Church Andy Stanley, the lead pastor, spoke about Staying in Love, and in the fourth installment, Multiple Choice Marriage, Andy points out one of the key choices we have to make.  Couples often have to make this choice daily or even multiple times per day.

We must choose whether or not to be generous with our partner.

When your partner forgets to do something, you can go negative or positive.  Option 1 is to assume that your partner is incompetent and, worse yet, does not care about you or the marriage.  Option 2 is to assume that your partner may have had a bad day and completely lost track of what he or she needed to do.

Be generous with your partner.  Over . . and over . . and over . . again, like Jesus was with you and me.

Give grace, because you are going to need it soon enough.

How can you be more generous in your relationships?

How to Be a Life Source

In John 6 many disciples were leaving Jesus because he had said some hard things, so Jesus turned to his disciples and asked them if they wanted to go, too.  Hearing that, Peter asked, “Lord, to whom shall we go?  You have the words of eternal life.”

What a profound statement.

“Why would we go to anything other than a life source?”  Pastor Vince of Lakeshore Community Church posed this question last fall, and the question has continued to intrigue me.

Why would I give my time and attention to anything or anyone other than a life source?

Life sources give life and energy to everyone around them.  The opposite, black holes of negativity, suck life from everyone who comes in contact with them.  People and even organizations (dare I say churches?) can be either life sources or black holes.

It’s a choice.

My dad has always been an encourager, both personally and as a pastor, but several years ago he decided he was going to give life wherever he goes.  As a result he does not listen to negative talk without trying to turn it around to a positive perspective.  As an elder at his church he challenges people who are resisting authority because those people are sucking life from the pastor.  And he is always encouraging me and helping me to dream about what my future could hold.

I want to hang out with him just reading what I am writing.  I love my dad.  And so does everyone else.  The world is his pulpit, and in his wake are people smiling and encouraged by stories, laughs, and prayers.

I am already a bit like my dad in personality, but I have really tried to be more life giving in the past while, and I have noticed how people respond.  It’s addictive.  I love seeing people light up.  People desperately want to be loved, encouraged, and recognized.

Here are a few ways you can become a life source in your world.

1.  Always use a person’s name.  In the checkout line, grab the person’s name and use it like you have known them all your life.  “Hi, Nancy, how’s your day going?”  will change you from another customer into the person who took a personal interest.  9 times out of 10 they will brighten up.

2.  Ask them what their name means.  Only once have I had a person say, “Well, people ask me this a lot.  I was born as a result of an affair.”  And even then it was an opportunity to encourage her and love on her in a difficult place of her life by talking about how beautiful her name was.

3.  Eat chocolate.  What??  That’s right.  If a person has a tray of candies or something on their desk, if your diet will allow it, take one.  That is their way of lightening things up, so you will make them happy by taking one.  When I left my job at Lakeshore, the front desk person said, “But who will eat my chocolate?”  It made both of us smile.

4.  Don’t vomit.  When someone asks you, “How are you doing?” don’t vomit your life all over them.  They walk away stinking and messy.  You don’t have to lie, and you shouldn’t.  Have someone else you can talk to about the hard things, and then remind yourself that God is working on your future.  As a Christian you can know that “everything works together for good,” even when life is screaming something else.

5.  Fill your life with positive input.  Refuse to give prominence to black holes.  Turn off the gangsta rap (the radio, I mean; if that’s your spouse then you have a different problem) and find something else.  No, you don’t have to turn on John Tesh (ugh!).  John Ortberg talks about balcony people.  Get people in your life who are going to cheer you on and dream for you.

6.  Listen, look them in the eye, and ask questions.  Be present when another person is talking.  One of my biggest challenges over the years has been to bring myself fully into every conversation and not be day dreaming or scheming my cool response.  Just be and experience the conversation with your whole being, and the other person will feel validated.

If you are reading this and realizing that you are more of a black hole than a life source, get a trusted friend or counselor and talk it over with them.  Get some perspective so that you can begin to change.  Your life can be so much better.

How are you going to be a life source today?