A Tension to Manage or a Problem to Solve?

Do you know that some tensions are never meant to disappear?

Here are a few of the tensions we experience in life:

  • Relational tension. Human beings are imperfect, and so tensions will arise within friendships and marriages.
  • Work tension. At work we may discover that our bosses have different expectations of us than we do, or we may have a conflict with a co-worker.
  • Cultural and Social tension. Christ-like living is contrary to many of society’s norms; choosing Christ often means choosing conflict with our society. Artists sometimes have to choose between creating art they can sell and art that says something meaningful.
  • Parental tension. As parents we are called to first lead, train and discipline our children; friendship is secondary, although very important. Choosing to parent well often means choosing to create tension with our children for their own good.
  • Theological tension. God is sovereign, but bad stuff happens to good people. God has chosen a good path for us, but human beings have free will. Many issues in theological discussions involve tension.

Some of these tensions can be resolved.

  • Relational tension. Christ calls us to take the initiative in making peace with those who have sinned against us. We need to ask forgiveness from those we have wronged, and we need to confront those who have wronged us. In marriage spouses must constantly be checking to make certain they are speaking the same language and holding similar expectations of each other.
  • Work tension. If we have conflict with a co-worker we need to resolve it. If we discover that our expectations do not match those of our boss, we need to take action to bring our expectations into alignment.

Some of these tensions, however, cannot be resolved.

  • Marriage is the combination of two individual people with differing tastes and preferences. While hopefully a marrying couple has many of these in common, some differences will always exist. One may like beef and the other one chicken. One is a night owl and the other is a morning person.
  • As Christians we are called to engage culture and make an impact for Christ. Because culture has so many negative components, however, many Christians try to completely disengage from culture. I believe Christ’s call to be “in and not of” the world requires us to walk the difficult grey area of engaging culture while remaining firm in our beliefs and principles.
  • Parenting is tough. Being a friend and support to your children while disciplining and guiding them is a difficult tension to manage. As a father I want nothing more than to play with my kids and give them everything they want because I love them so much. Because I love them, however, I have to discipline them and train them.
  • God is a Spirit. Jesus revealed himself in the form of a man, but he was fully God as well as fully man. When we become Christians the Holy Spirit indwells us and gives us power to overcome the evil one. We are in a spiritual battle for the souls of people. The way to life is narrow and few find it. Those who truly receive Christ’s offer of salvation will spend eternity in heaven, and those who reject Christ will spend eternity in hell. Theology and the spiritual life is full of huge tensions, most of which are beyond our comprehension.

Deciding which issues are tensions to manage and which issues are problems we can solve is in itself a tension to manage.

Christ, however, enables us to experience his peace in every situation because his peace is based on him. Christ does not change. Christ was, is and will be forever the same. For that reason life with Christ is peace and joy, even in the midst of some of the hardest tensions life can throw at us.

Our goal, then, is not to resolve every tension, but to find peace and rest in Christ, who is the calm in the middle of every situation.

Are you trying to find peace by resolving unresolvable tensions, or are you finding peace in Christ, who does not change?

Re-Post: Something Worth Living For

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.

I am a parent, and parents easily get caught in the day-to-day business of managing children, school homework, and lunches, not to mention extra curricular pursuits and puberty.  It’s no surprise, then, that when your son or daughter thanks you or expresses appreciation in some way for what you do as a parent you can feel a little bit giddy.

I had one of those moments today.

I like to say my boys are the best in the world; I wish I could take credit for how good they are.  They are rambunctious boys who like to make fart noises and play legos, but they are sharp and witty and respectful at least 90% of the time, which is pretty good in my book.

Today the boys went to work with me.  I was able to interact with them some, but for the majority of the day they were on their own, playing Wii, legos, Minecraft, and other things.

At one point in the day one of my boys just walked up to me and said, “I love you, dad.”

Wow.  That made my day.  I do not get to see them often, so hearing that from him meant so much to me.

Thank you, Lord, for the small things that make the challenging days worth the effort.  Thank you for my sweet, innocent boys.

What moments as a parent have encouraged you?

What Parenting Is Teaching Me About Leadership

Some people grow up wanting to be parents, confident they will be great parents.  Other people try to avoid having children and end up being reluctant parents.  Most of us are somewhere in between: wanting children but not sure if we have what it takes.

Father and son

11 years ago I was one of those parents excited about having a child but a little concerned about what parenting would actually be.  Finally, six months after my oldest son was born, I fully grasped the idea that no one was going to come pick him up.  I was his dad and he was staying.

I learned at that moment that sometimes we are never ready for the position God gives us; we grow into those positions.

Now, 11 years and two boys later, I am learning something else: how to let someone else win.

This afternoon I have been enjoying our Sunday afternoon ritual of video games and popcorn.  These days I often lose because my boys are just better than me.  Other times I am beating them fair and square and I enjoy it.

Truth is, though, sometimes I know I would be better off if I did not beat them multiple times in a row.  I realize I would have a much bigger win if I found a way to let them win.

As leaders we face similar choices.

  • Worship leaders can lead worship every week in every service, OR they can train other musicians to lead worship.
  • Pastors can speak in the services every week, OR they can train others to speak.
  • Music directors can insist on doing all of the arranging themselves, OR they can train others to arrange.
  • Drama leaders can write and direct all of the sketches, OR they can train others to write and direct.

God can work through us when we do everything ourselves, but when we share the ministry with others God can do much more.  Leaders who follow Christ are naturally going to train others to follow in their footsteps because Christ did not cling to his place of leadership; he gave it up and came to earth to redeem us.

When we give away the ministry we are leading like Christ and modeling for others what it means to be a Christ-like leader.

Where can you give away your ministry?  Who can you train to take your place?

Something Worth Living For

I am a parent, and parents easily get caught in the day-to-day business of managing children, school homework, and lunches, not to mention extra curricular pursuits and puberty.  It’s no surprise, then, that when your son or daughter thanks you or expresses appreciation in some way for what you do as a parent you can feel a little bit giddy.

I had one of those moments today.

I like to say my boys are the best in the world; I wish I could take credit for how good they are.  They are rambunctious boys who like to make fart noises and play legos, but they are sharp and witty and respectful at least 90% of the time, which is pretty good in my book.

Today the boys went to work with me.  I was able to interact with them some, but for the majority of the day they were on their own, playing Wii, legos, Minecraft, and other things.

At one point in the day one of my boys just walked up to me and said, “I love you, dad.”

Wow.  That made my day.  I do not get to see them often, so hearing that from him meant so much to me.

Thank you, Lord, for the small things that make the challenging days worth the effort.  Thank you for my sweet, innocent boys.

What moments as a parent have encouraged you?

Life Doesn’t Ask Permission to Change

Ever.

I am sitting in McDonalds, enjoying their free Wi-fi and thinking about how my son is entering 6th grade in just 4 days.  How could that be happening?

He is leaving the cocoon known as elementary school and venturing into the thrilling and terrifying world of middle school.

Might as well call it Middle Earth for everything that happens there.

When you’re in middle school you’re not an elementary student, but you aren’t quite high school material either.

Physically you are something between a kid and a red-blooded teen.  Hormones and parents battle it out over this soon-to-think-he-is-an-adult.

But what a magical time.  Suddenly my son is going to be thrust into a world where he can learn to think and manipulate information for himself.

He is going to grow in fantastic ways.

His spiritual compass and emotional maturity are going to be tempered and tested until he becomes a sharp tool, able to lead himself.

He is going to learn more about this universe we live in – for better or for worse.

But I have to let him go there.

I am going to need to let him enter that den of lions and trust that God will protect and guide him every step of the way.

I don’t remember my junior high (that’s what they called it then) days with tons of affection.  There were some great moments, and then there were the taunting classmates and emotionally confusing times.

But I loved my dad (and still do).  During 7th and 8th grade dad was the principal at my school.  I would arrive early with him on cold winter mornings to start the heaters in the frigid gym and set up the chairs in the cafeteria for chapel.

I would hang in the gym after school for two hours, shooting hoops and helping the varsity coach with volleyball practice.  Being in 8th grade and hanging out around the high school girls was pretty cool, I must say.

Mostly, though, right now I am thinking about how my dad encouraged me, gave me room to grow, and modeled integrity.  Years later I am aware of the challenges he faced and how he handled them with grace.

Dad patiently walked through those confusing times with me and offered whatever support and guiding words he could.

I want to be there for my boys like my dad was there for me.

I want my boys to look back when they are my age and be grateful for the guidance I offered them.  But I am not with my boys like my dad was with me.  I am divorced and my boys live almost 2 hours away.  I see them for small blocks of time.  How can I?

Here is where I am reminded of the value of close friends.

This time my girlfriend was that close friend providing me with some compassionate and objective encouragement and feedback.  As a result I am seeing new ways to look at my situation.  I owe a lot to her for some of these ideas.

  1. I can still pray.  Prayer invites God to do what I cannot, and to make what I do greater than I could make it myself.  Without prayer my other efforts will fall short.
  2. I can talk purposefully.  Every dinner time the boys and I (and whomever is with us) go around the table and share our “Best and Worst:” the best and worst moments of our day.  My youngest son usually makes certain we do not forget to do this.  I could also brainstorm a group of topics I want to address with the boys and have them pick one out of a jar occasionally.
  3. I can write.  I love to write, so why not write them letters?  In those letters I could remind them that I am praying for them and that I believe in who they are and who they are becoming.  I could write them funny stories and poems, and other things they could enjoy when I am not around.  I could also share character traits with them that I feel are important.
  4. I can plan special outings.  I am not a rich man, but there are plenty of things to do and see for free or on a budget in Sarasota and nearby.
  5. I can visit their schools.  Each of them is starting a new school next week, and perhaps I could come and sit in on one of their classes occasionally or join them for lunch.

I am certain there are more ways, but these are tangible and doable now.  If you have other ideas that have worked for you, I would love to hear them.

How about you?  Where in your life do you need to look at things differently?

Happy Father’s Day, Dad!

No one has had a greater impact on me than my father.

I have had great professors, teachers, pastors, mentors, and even friends, but none of them will ever come close to matching the impact my father has had on me.

Even though my father is a flawed human being, he still has made a lasting impression on me, and this gives me hope.  Some of the most impressive messages my dad preached had to do with his failings and how he dealt with them.

I want to be like that.  I want to make a lasting impression on my two boys.

I get the feeling that time is slipping through my fingers and soon my boys will be all grown up.  Am I really making the most of these young years?

Then I look at dad and remember that even though I have flaws and even though I have had failures, I can still make a difference.  I will make mistakes in the future, but I know I can still have a positive impact on my two precious boys.

Here are a few things my dad has modeled for me.

Integrity.  If dad says he will do something, he will do it.  Every time.  When we are doing masonry, dad will never cut corners.  If a customer is not happy, dad will work with them until they are, even if he has to eat the cost.

Work ethic.  Life has not been easy financially for mom and dad, so they have had to work long hard hours.  Dad never complains; he just chooses to enjoy his work.  He works holidays and Saturdays if necessary to get the bills covered.

Grace.  I remember slamming the door in front of my mom and hearing her talk later about how dad would tell her to give me space, that I was just in a stage.  I have had the door slammed in my face a time or two by my boys, and I now appreciate how hard it must have been for them to make that choice.

Humor.  When I was in junior high my dad and I were working on a house and the drywall workers had their radio cranked way up on some country station.  After hours of this dad walked over and lightly asked, “Could we listen to the birds chirp for a while?”  I don’t think it made a difference, but I give him serious credit for being willing to inject a little fun into a potentially stressful situation.

Passion for God.  Dad’s favorite topic of discussion is how God is working in his life or in the lives of others. Dad celebrates God every day.

If I grow up to be half the man my dad has been, I will be happy.  Very happy.

How about you?  How has your father impacted you?