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Finding Your Place

love-one-another“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 13:34-35

In this verse Jesus very simply tells us to love one another. Seems easy enough. Then He adds, “As I have loved you.” All of a sudden that’s a whole new level of love, isn’t it? He loved us so much He died for us. If you’re being honest, how many people are you loving like that?  Tough question for sure!

I’m reminded of the time God spoke to me about one of my friends. He said, “You are a good friend to him,” immediately I felt encouraged. Then He continued, saying, “but you haven’t been a friend to him like I’ve been to you”. OUCH! It pointed directly to the verse above.

You may still be looking and listening for God’s specific purpose and call for your life, but you can find your place today by loving the people He has put in your life, like Jesus loves you.  Start with one person. Who comes to mind first? Is it a family member, a co-worker, a friend? You loving them as lavishly as Jesus loves you will make a major impact in their life, and in the process you will find a place and purpose that’s been waiting for you all along. People will know whose you are without you saying a word. Jesus says, “ By this everyone will know that you are my disciples.”

Father’s Matter

father-grown-sonThis year my kids are 15, 21 and 26. Like all dads out there I’ve done some things right and many things wrong. If you are a father of young children know that you have an immense opportunity and responsibility. Your leadership will have more to do with their development and future than you now know.

I’ve done a little experiment, and polled a number of men to get their answers to two questions in hopes that we might glean some wisdom from their experience.  While I surveyed men from varying backgrounds and ages, it was very interesting to me how similar their answers were. My Dad used to say, “learn from other’s mistakes instead of making them all yourself.” Good advice!  Hopefully we can all apply it after reading this.

The first question I asked was:

As a father, the one thing I would have done different when my children were young is _____________?

The three most common answers were:

  1. Model Christ to my children better
  2. Focus more on my relationship with my wife
  3. Plan for regular vacations and purposeful memory making occasions.

So, young dad’s out there… How are you doing in these areas? The #2 answer says a lot in the fact that the question was direction towards children but focusing on the relationship with your wife. Don’t miss this one!  Today is a great day to start or restart.

The second question I asked was:

As a grown man the one thing I long/longed for my father to say is _______________?

The same three answers were repeated over and over. In fact these were the only answers given.

  1. I’m sorry
  2. I love you
  3. I’m proud of you

Fathers, listen up! Especially if you’re a dad of grown children. Chances are your children are longing to hear one or all of the above. You probably don’t have to think very long to know what that is. Men, do it now. Pick up the phone, go for a visit and bless your children with the words they long to hear.

He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction. Malachi 4:6

Having The Tough Conversation

difficult conversationLet’s face it; we all experience this from time to time. That elephant in the room that everyone’s aware of, but no one wants to talk about. It could be the conversation you need to have with your parents, or with your child or spouse. It could be the talk that needs to happen between you and an employee or coworker.  Whether it’s the big elephant or a bunch of small stuff that’s been swept under the rug for years… either way it’s encroaching on, and diminishing the intimacy and authenticity of your relationship.

So why are these very necessary conversations so hard to have? It’s our FEAR OF PAIN. Come on, nobody likes pain. Given the choice, we all choose comfort over confrontation. The very thought of having the conversation produces anxiety in us because our fear is, “this is not going to go well or end well”. That thought process is true for all of us, but that entire process happens in our head, and gets all twisted up with the worst possible outcome, which produces more anxiety. Mark twain said, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened”.

My experience is this, while they are difficult to have, the positive outcomes to these conversations far outweigh the rare negative ones. I can still remember getting the phone call from Kirsten saying, “We need to talk, I’m coming to pick you up”. GULP! I didn’t know what it was about, but I knew it couldn’t be good. I remember this sick feeling in my stomach waiting for her to arrive. I’ll save the details for another post, but suffice it to say, it was one of the toughest conversations of my life, but in the months following that conversation our relationship soared to new heights because of it.

Avoidance is the best short-term strategy to ensure long-term misery. Muster the courage, lay down the negative thoughts, and go have the conversation. Freedom is on the other end.

One Strategic Move to Getting Unstuck

Getting UnstuckIf you’ve been married a couple years or more and you are willing to be brutally honest, your marriage is probably mediocre at best. I apologize for starting out so bluntly, but stick with me for a minute. The first part in making it better is identifying and admitting where you are. The other issue is you aren’t sure how it got that way… it happened so subtlety. You woke up one day and realized it wasn’t great.

You want to know what happened? You stopped pursuing your spouse. It’s that simple… and hard. Men, when you were dating you’d talk for hours on the phone, you’d go to the chick flicks, you’d drive hours to spend 15 minutes with the one you love. You pursued her! But once you “got” her… you stopped. Granted there may be a lot of scars, anger and disappointment present today, but those are by-products of not pursuing your wife.

Another trap we get into is surveying the landscape and comparing our marriage to those around us. Come on! With a 50% divorce rate, if you are still together you are doing a lot better than those around you, aren’t you? The problem with the married couples you’re comparing to is that their marriage is mediocre too.

Pick any area of your life and ask yourself this question, “Can I neglect that area, not work at it, and see growth or success over a long period of time?” The answer is absolutely positively NO! Yet couples say, “why don’t we have a good marriage?” When for years they have been neglecting it. Consider your body; don’t eat right and don’t exercise and your heath is going to decline. Don’t manage your workplace, don’t plan ahead and your business will decline. Take your yard for example; don’t cut, fertilize or water it for just one year and you will have a mess. Over a long period of time you will only see deterioration!

Here is the hardest part… you don’t know what to do to make it any better. TO GET WHAT YOU ONCE HAD, YOU MUST DO WHAT YOU ONCE DID. Period. Own it! This one strategic move, consistently practiced, will propel you out of mediocrity.

How do I know this will work? Eight years ago my marriage was shattered. With bitterness, resentment, anger and the works, I began to love, cherish and serve my wife without expecting anything in return. I began to do what I’d done at the beginning of our relationship. Was it a quick fix? No. Was it hard work at times? Yes. Was it worth it? Yes! Yes! Yes! Love never fails. Today Kirsten and I are best friends, we enjoy each other’s company… we actually like one another :0) Get started today! You can do this!

The Hostage You’re Holding May Be You

Hostage

I had lunch with my friend Grady today, and learned we shared a similar experience. So much so, I believe there may be a few of you who have also. While most people have heard the saying, “money is the root of all evil”. 1 Timothy 6:10 really says it a bit different, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil…” Money is not evil, it’s the love of money that is. Ok, now that we have that straight. What if like Grady and me, you have this money thing down pretty well. That is to say, you know God is your provider, it all belongs to Him, and you’re in a place where it doesn’t run your life nor do you run after it.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to say yes when friends have asked for loans. I’ve needed the same kind of help through the years, and I feel privileged to be able to pay it forward so to speak. Sometimes God has asked me to forgive the loans, which I have done, and I’m grateful to say the same has been done for me. Again, I think I’ve got this money thing down pretty good, which leads me to the part where I got tripped up.

Through most of last year I had these checks sitting on my desk. The checks were payments on loans, but I was asked to hold them until they let me know it was ok to deposit them. No problem right! Three months goes by and no word to deposit. Six months goes by and it’s gotten even quieter. The truth is, the amount of the checks is insignificant… it’s not going to make me or break me, but I’m seeing the checks on my desk and it’s the principle of the thing… At least continue to communicate with me… Then I’d see these people on Facebook and I’m admitting I didn’t like the feeling it produced in me. So the next day at work I hid the checks under my keyboard so they wouldn’t be a constant reminder and I removed the friends from showing up on my Facebook timeline. Problem solved, right? WRONG!

Had the checks never been written, I don’t believe I would have had a problem with it. It’s God’s money after all. You’ve heard it said, “it’s the principle of the thing” right? Well the principle of the thing was messing me up inside! I can remember praying, ‘God I don’t want to feel like this towards them, help me with this’, but it wasn’t until a Saturday morning when He helped me see those checks were doing a lot more harm than any good they could ever do. I drove to my office, ripped up the checks, forgave the debt and my peace returned. Grady’s story was so similar it just made me think someone else’s story might be too, and just maybe if you’re in that “stuck” place we were in for a while, this might help you get “unstuck” today.

Are you holding someone accountable for something that’s out of your control? Let it go today. The hostage you’re holding may be you.

When Was The Last Time You Were Truly Happy?

If it takes a while to remember the last time you were truly happy, something needs to change.  You need to invest yourself and your life differently if you are unhappy. Rarely if ever does “life” bring happiness to an unhappy place. Unfortunately, when most of us start to look at what would make us happy, we immediately look for the quick/easy solution. Something needs to change and because our eyes happen to point outward, that’s usually where we focus first… Change my location, job, friends, hobby, spouse, etc.

The truth is most of us are sick. Heartsick. At one level or another each of us has places in our heart that are lonely, disappointed, disillusioned, fearful, angry, anxious and numb. Everyone around us wants change. We look for things that will lessen the negative effects of those places in our heart. We buy products, elect politicians and travel just because they promise us some kind of change. We assume any change is good, but actual experience doesn’t bear that out at all! Change is inevitable: rusting, fading, aging, and other experiences in life are change, and they are not for the better! Change for change’s sake is seldom good.

Good change isn’t accidental. It is intentional. The most lasting change is the type that happens within us, but unfortunately that’s usually the last place we look. Instead of changing locale or career, what comes to mind when you look inward? Would you like to be kinder, more generous, less critical… what is it for you? If you were real honest what’s the one thing that comes to mind?

At the end of Matthew 13:15 (from the Message) Jesus says, “…so they won’t have to deal with me face-to-face and let me heal them.” This just baffles me. A loving God who wants to heal us, and we’d rather put our fingers in our ears and shut our eyes and act like He’s not there… Regardless of why we do it, we all do it at times, and as time moves on, those places in our heart become fortified and hard.

Today I’m asking God to show me the places in my heart that need to be healed. In my experience it’s a prayer He rushes to answer. What do you say? Will you ask Him today?

WOW! Just finished typing the sentence above and answered a phone call. By the time I hung up, I’m aware of an impatience that stems from a selfish place in my heart. God, honor your word and heal me.

Broken Bones And Your Relationships

Did you know that when a bone breaks and it heals, it becomes strongest at the point that it was broken? That’s amazing to me. You would think that that place would be the most vulnerable in the future, but it really becomes the sturdiest. (I can see God’s fingerprints all over that science!)

Consider for a minute that our “bone” is our relationship, and it’s broken, but not set properly… It heals, but not correctly. In 2005 my wife Kirsten and I were separated for 11 months and 14 days. Kirsten reached a point at which she couldn’t continue. It was my fault, but I won’t go into all the details of “why” but suffice it to say I was not providing for my family the way I should have been, and we had been though many many tough years. At the time I was doing everything I could to try to keep us together… but the truth was I was trying to prolong a relationship that was mediocre at best.

In hindsight I see very clearly that God had a lot to do with the separation. In my mind I had two choices; staying together in a very dysfunctional, mediocre relationship or divorce… My choice was to stay together. God’s perspective was better! (Isn’t it always!) Here is what God knew to be true. Kirsten and my relationship was broken, and it had been for many years… much like a broken bone. Unfortunately we never got the “break” fixed properly. I liken it to a broken arm. Hold your arm out in front of you and now bend it 90 degrees. Imagine you broke your arm and it healed on its own just like that. From now on you couldn’t bend it any more or less from the elbow. It still looks just like an arm, it’s still somewhat functional, you can still tie your shoes, you can still scratch your nose, but you can’t throw your child in air and catch them. It’s ability and usefulness is limited. That was our relationship. It still looked like a marriage, but our level of love and life was very limited.

God’s option was this; He’s going to re-break the arm (our relationship, the separation) and He’s going to do some healing on both ends and then bring it back together and set it properly this time. So that it can be fully functional again!

If a bone becomes strongest at the point that it was broken, and the same is true with our relationships. That means that unless we’ve received the correct and complete healing, we have limited our level of life, love, joy, enjoyment, you name it. Unless we’re willing to do some work, our relationships can only decline.  I’m not suggesting you dig up a bunch of old stuff, but if your marriage isn’t thriving today there is a reason, and it very likely is that your capacity has been limited by a break in the past that was not healed correctly or completely.

So what’s the point I’m trying to make? It’s this, for years I was a peacekeeper in my marriage. Sweep it under the rug, let’s move on etc. and there was a huge obvious bulge under the rug at our house. Do you know the difference between peacekeeping and peacemaking?  Peacekeeping is about avoiding conflict at
any cost.  It’s ultimately a selfish motive because the status quo is desired above all else. Peacemaking understands conflicts can be a healthy stepping-stone to an improved relationship. It seeks time and effort to resolve problems, not ignore them. One leads to relational decline. The other to relational strength. So are you a peacekeeper or peacemaker in your marriage? Give peacemaking a chance.

 

Your Greatest Gift To Me Dad

We have all heard how our relationship with our Dad has a lot to do with our relationship with God as our Heavenly Father.  And in the vast majority of story’s I’ve heard the father son relationship has had a negative impact on their relationship with God. As you know, there are so many stories of betrayal, abuse, abandonment and just non-engaged silence.

Dad, you are different! Your level of integrity is rare and it is a blessing to your children. I have told you before that I cannot recall a time when you have let me down. Keeping your word down to the smallest detail is your greatest gift to me. I trust you implicitly. It is no coincidence that I trust God even more. I am so confident that God will keep His promises because you modeled that so well for me. I am convinced that God’s plan for me is to give me a hope and a future because you have represented that to me all along.

Much of your advice, many of your decisions, and all of your discipline, I didn’t like at the time, but I have had the opportunity to reflect and see that your advice was full of wisdom, your decisions were like railroad tracks for me to follow and your discipline was because you loved me. All for my good!  Dad, you have paved the way for my relationship with God and I am forever grateful. Thank you for a job well done and keep up the good work! 

You and I talked about testimonies one time and we joked about you not having one people would pay to hear because it didn’t have some of those “bottom” experiences like mine and others you know, but if you consider where our relationship has come from and that it has been raised from the dead, I think it is an incredible testimony… one a lot of fathers need to hear.

Happy Father’s Day Dad!
All my love,
Michael

To Rebuild Something It Must First Be Torn Down

To start over… To quit and begin again… to take a step backward to be able to take two forward. Whatever you call it, it’s hard to contemplate and even harder to do! Starting over seems so painful. For some reason there’s a sense of failure in that. You’ve got all this time, effort and energy that will literally go to waste if you start over, and for that reason most of us don’t or wont and our “pain” continues.

Take your business for example; let’s say your cash flow is consistently tight, week in and week out you borrow and shift and juggle to make payroll. You’ve done it so long that it’s become normal… So much so you’ve surmised most businesses run this way. Occasionally you’ve thought, ‘I could hire a consultant to help with this or there are some changes I could make to eliminate this problem like increasing prices by 6%, adjusting my accounts receivable terms, incentivizing prompt payment, penalizing late payments, etc.’ but you don’t call a consultant and you don’t implement the changes… Why? Because you perceive making those changes to be more painful than your current situation. The truth is juggling to make payroll each week is extremely painful and stressful, but you have done it for so long you have become somewhat “comfortable” in this painful place. From the outside looking in its rather obvious… from your perspective, not so much. Multiple honest perspectives are very valuable!

Still don’t know what I’m talking about? How about your marriage; you’ve been married 12 years, and while you’d admit the honeymoon is over, you say “My wife and I are still married… Look at all the people we know who are getting divorced” The truth is your relationship is mediocre at best; there’s no life or zest in it anymore. You desire a better relationship and you’ve considered going to counseling, but you’ve concluded that would only bring some touchy subjects to the surface and cause more pain. You have grown comfortable in the mediocre relationship and would rather continue in that for years to come than do some hard work that leads to real love and life.

If it sounds like I’m preaching, know that most of my writing comes from personal experience :0). Our hope is that things will get better if we hang in there long enough. That is faulty thinking. A solid home does not spring forth from a broken foundation.  To rebuild something it must first be torn down.

Take a step back… What is it that’s not working so well? What is it that came to mind when you read that question? Identify it before the wheels come off! What can you begin working on this month that would bring forth a higher level of life, joy, love and relationship for years to come?

Your Greatest Gift To Me Mom

Your greatest gift to me is a beautiful package with three things in it; unconditional love, prayer and example.

Unconditional Love
I have often told you about how you have made each of your boys feel like they are your favorite. You do this without showing favoritism, so I still don’t know how you do it but its how God makes me feel too! The truth is I have given you more opportunity to worry, to be disappointed and reason to give up than should be permissible. Yet never once have I ever felt unloved. Even at my lowest times I never felt shame or judgment from you… only love and acceptance. You have exemplified 1 Corinthians 13 to me. I believe your example has been a conduit for me to receive God’s love. This is priceless!

Prayer
Your prayers for me and God’s response are evidence to me that prayer works. I think back to so much of my past and see where there were so many times when you couldn’t do anything else. I consider the many years when nothing changed, or got worse. Your prayers must have seemed like they we’re falling on deaf ears yet you remained faithful and trusted God and continued to pray. Your example created a foundation for my reliance on prayer.

Example
You told me about several times in your life when something needed to give… something needed to change, and how you gave God permission to change you if that’s what He wanted to do. And, that’s exactly what happened. He changed you. “Lord change me” is a prayer God continues to be faithful to answer in my life. Thank you for this simple foundational lesson!

Happy Mothers Day Mom
I love you!

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