When You’re Uncomfortable in Relationships

Have you ever felt uncomfortable in a relationship?

I’m not talking about being creeped out by someone (that’s a different topic).

Maybe you find yourself not wanting to open up to people; you find yourself wanting to avoid people or struggle to let people in. All of us have reasons for this. You might have been betrayed, hurt in the past or simply lied to and let down by someone who was supposed to care.

So you’re uncomfortable.

Here’s an example from my life.

Often when I’m reading or watching TV on the couch, one or several of my kids will snuggle in real close, sometimes sitting on top of me. For some reason this is really uncomfortable to me.

Usually I’ll ask them to slide down or move over, and they’ll move half an inch (still touching) and ask if that is good.

Recently I shared this with a counselor, and after a long pause he said, “Isn’t it interesting how little kids have a way of revealing things in us?”

So, here are my questions for you in relationships, because the answers will often reveal what is keeping you from experiencing great relationships:

1   What relationships make you uncomfortable?

2   Where did that start?

Our discomfort in relationships does reveal something to us, and it is an invitation to us. That invitation is a step towards wholeness and life.

I’ve had to ask, “Why do I like my space so much, and why does it make me uncomfortable when people invade my space?” I’m not much of a physical touch person or very affectionate, but why is that and how is that hindering me in relationships?

It does and it often keeps me from being close to people.

Yes, some of that is personality, but when we’re honest, if we don’t deal with our discomfort, we will find ourselves lonely and missing out.

When You Preach a Bad Sermon

There are all kinds of reasons for a bad sermon.

It could be poor delivery, incorrect theology or making a passage say what you want it to say, not what it actually says. It could be that your sermon was bad because you went too long and had 2-3 sermons wrapped up into one.

Most of the time a bad sermon is preached because the pastor is unprepared.

This can happen because they didn’t give priority to sermon prep. They let their week get away from them, and they were scurrying around on Saturday trying to figure out what to say.

Many times a pastor is unprepared because he hasn’t edited his sermon and has too much information.

Every sermon you preach will leave things left unsaid. Why? Because people can’t handle a running commentary or an hour long sermon.

I remember a pastor saying once, “Tim Keller needs 32 minutes for his sermon, and you aren’t Tim Keller.”

There’s a lot of truth to that.

And honestly, most weeks I say too much. A few weeks ago in one of our services I circled the airport and refused to land the plane, went 10 minutes longer than I should have and said more than I needed to. (As a side note, if you do preach too long you should walk back to your kids’ ministry and apologize to the workers, as they feel it more than anyone else in your church).

When that happens, it is important for a pastor to evaluate why that happened.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

Did I give adequate time to sermon prep this week? It is easy in the busyness of a week to crowd out sermon prep. Meetings, counseling, family responsibilities, budgets, all of it screams for your attention. As a result, any pastors find themselves waiting until the last minute (Saturday night) to work on their sermon. Your sermon must get priority in your weekly calendar and schedule. You need to do it when you are most alert (which for most people is the morning).

Was I focused when I stood in front of my church? This is difficult. You arrive at church and there is a lot happening. Not only at church with your volunteers, staff or technology issues, but you also have everything that happened that week in your church, your world and your family.

I think pastors need to think through a Sunday morning routine that helps them to prepare their hearts and minds. What music do you listen to on Saturday night and Sunday morning? What is your prayer routine like? When do you read through your notes? I lay out my weekly rhythm here and what my Sunday mornings look like.

Did I preach more than one sermon? This happens more often than I’d like to admit and is a lot harder if you don’t preach every week.

In any given passage you could preach 2-3 themes. Many times when covering a longer passage, there are a lot of themes. A pastor must edit down and determine what he will and will not zero in on. Sometimes this means that you not only don’t cover everything, but that you might need to take that chapter and make it four sermons instead of one. Your people will thank you because you will be clearer.

Do I believe God will still work if I don’t say everything that is in my notes? Recently in a sermon, the person doing the slides asked me after the first service if I was going to skip two pages in the second service. I asked what he meant, and he said, “You skipped almost half your notes.” When I got to that part of my notes, I knew I didn’t have time for it. This means a pastor must feel okay with what he did and did not say. You don’t have to share everything. If you missed something crucial, write a blog post or share a video on Facebook.

How to Make the Most of Your Morning

If you have kids (even if you don’t), the morning can be crazy. You stayed up too late watching that last episode on Netflix or the game, you hit the snooze button too much, and now you are racing out the door. Throwing lunches together, stuffing breakfast into your mouth.

There is a lot at stake in what we do with our mornings. In fact, the most productive people maximize their mornings.

Here’s the reality, though: If you don’t make the most of your morning, you will feel behind all day.

If your day is determined by your morning, how do you make the most of it?

Here are six ideas:

1. Get up before everyone. If you want to make the most of your morning, whether you are single, married or have kids, you have to get up before everyone else. You must be up before people start sending you texts and emails.

There is something that happens in the quietness of a morning, when it is still dark out.

I know, you are exhausted and not a morning person. I get it.

When we started our church I would work late into the night because I hated the mornings, but the reality is that most people do their best work and best thinking in the morning.

There is a definite difference to my day when I am up before everyone else and when I am not.

Parents know this truth because they feel behind if they wake up when their kids do.

2. Pick a spot. Place is important to many people, but particularly when it comes to focus for your heart. Choosing a spot that you return to each morning to recharge, focus and pray is incredibly important.

This might be a porch, a spot in your room or a favorite chair.

Wherever it is, don’t simply make this haphazard. Choose a spot that will help to quiet you and focus your heart.

The consistency of a spot and place will also start to create in your mind a signal that it is time to relax, think, and connect with Jesus. This becomes a very powerful part of maximizing your time.

3. Read/Journal. Focusing for your day will often come through feeding your soul first.

For me, it is spending time reading my Bible. Being able to have space to read, process, write down what God is doing in your heart and mind is incredibly important.

What things stand out to you while reading your Bible? Write them down.

Many people find a lot of relief from getting their thoughts and feelings out of their minds and onto paper. This is often a great stress reliever but also a place to leave something behind. You can also keep track of things you are praying for and when those prayers are answered.

4. Pray/Think. In the busyness of life, especially with kids, if you want to have time to pray and think in silence, you will have to carve it out. This is why you need to get up before everyone else. If you want quiet, you have to make it happen. Quiet does not magically find you.

If you are a leader, this is very important.

Part of your job as a leader is thinking and praying through what is next for your organization, your church and your family. As a parent, you must spend time thinking and praying about what is next for your marriage and your kids.

Recently, an older leader challenged me on this and said, “Josh, if you don’t spend time thinking and praying about what is next for your church, who do you think is?”

5. Tackle your hardest task first. If you’ve noticed, you haven’t done any work yet. For many people, you might be wondering when you start being productive.

But I would say that all of the above will bring greater levels of productivity and success.

As you think through your day, do what takes the most mental energy, the hardest task, the thing that will move the ball the furthest in your life and career, first.

For me and many pastors, this is sermon prep, not a meeting or a counseling session. Tackle the tasks that are not only hard but move the ball furthest in your life or work.

6. Turn on electronics. Notice, this is last and depending on how long everything else took you, it might be until lunch time before you check email, Facebook or Instagram. That isn’t a bad thing (unless your boss would be mad at you about checking your email that late, which is a different topic). Side note, if your boss doesn’t like that, have a conversation about how you can be more productive if you don’t check your email first thing in the morning.

Why does that help?

Email has a way of hijacking your day and brain. It sidetracks you. On sermon prep mornings, I don’t check my email until I am done. It keeps my head clear.

The reality is, no one else is responsible to make you successful, effective or productive. You are. If you aren’t, as much as we don’t want to admit it, that is often on us.

Take control of what you can control.

Links for Leaders 10/6/17

It’s the weekend…finally. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Below, you’ll find some articles I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

Before diving into those, in case you missed them this week. Here are the top 3 posts from my blog this week that I hope you find helpful:

Now, onto some more articles and podcasts to help you:

October is pastor appreciation month, which can be nice, but Thom Rainer shares 10 ways to bring joy to your pastor throughout the year. These are great.

Charles Stone shares 5 questions every church staff should ask themselves on a regular basis. These questions are incredibly telling and I think will create some great conversations.

Ever wonder why people aren’t coming to your church or aren’t staying? Carey Nieuwhof shares 12 reasons your church isn’t attracting new people (and many of them will surprise you).

Sometimes in ministry, your heart hardens and when that happens, your joy for ministry and people wains. Here are 10 signs your heart is hardening.

I’m always on the lookout on how to make a sermon series more interesting, attractional or relevant. Joe Hoagland shares 3 ideas from TV series that can be really helpful as you put together your next sermon series.

Feelings as an Invitation

Recently Katie and I were sitting in a conference with a group of pastors that was led by two counselors, and they were talking about the body and a theology of the body.

Fascinating.

During the time, though, they said something that I haven’t been able to get out of my head.

They said, “When you feel something, discomfort, anger, anxiety, worry, disgust, there is something going on, something you shouldn’t ignore. That something is an invitation from God for you to walk into.”

We all have those moments. Moments when we fly off the handle, sulk, pull away, lie awake in bed worrying about our marriage or finances.

What if those moments are invitations?

Most of the time, if you’re a follower of Jesus, you easily beat yourself up over those feelings. I shouldn’t feel that way. I shouldn’t think that. I shouldn’t, couldn’t, wouldn’t.

Those feelings are revealing something.

Something is going on.

It might be revealing a dark heart, a sin you need to confess.

It might be revealing something from your past you are running from, pretending it didn’t happen.

Many times our feelings are reminders of things we’d like to forget.

Yet, those are also places God wants to enter and redeem. Those are places and stories that need redemption.

That’s the invitation.

Don’t run from it.

How do I get my Spouse to Notice Me?

When you were dating your spouse you couldn’t wait to see them.

I remember having conversations with Katie and falling asleep on the phone. When you get married you can’t wait to get home from work to spend the evening with your spouse.

Things are new, things are fun and your relationship is growing.

But then life happens.

Bills pile up. Kids enter the picture, and the spontaneous, last minute romance that happened now becomes less and less until it is nonexistent. Date nights that used to magically appear no longer make it onto the calendar.

Slowly, both spouses ask (for different reasons), “How do I get my spouse to notice me?”

For women, it often centers around romance, being pursued, having her husband care about her day, her dreams and longings.

For men, it centers around sex and the feeling that his wife desires him sexually, but also that she cares about his dreams.

As a couple enters the second decade of their marriage, another fear starts to enter the relationship, and noticing it is crucial in this.

The fear that they missed out on life. The fear that they aren’t enough.

For women, if they have kids, this will center on being a mom and if they are doing enough. According to the mom blogs they are probably failing. Their kids are in school now and they wonder if they are keeping up, if they are worthwhile as a mom.

For men, they wonder if they missed out on life. They expected their career to be at a certain point by the time they were 35 or 40, and it usually isn’t as far along as they expected. They are afraid to say something because saying something makes it real.

In this moment, a couple has enormous power to speak truth and grace into the heart of their spouse.

But many don’t.

Most couples keep chugging on, alone.

Men escape into porn, fantasy sports leagues, real sports leagues or get lost in another hobby.

You can see the misery on their face, the longing for a deeper connection that isn’t there. They want to know that they didn’t fail as a man but are afraid to say so.

Women escape into the lives of their kids or a career when they are old enough.

Slowly, they take a step away from each other.

At first it isn’t noticeable, but then the chasm becomes so wide that it seems impossible to bridge.

Then someone asks, “How do I get my spouse to notice me?”

At this point the answer seems to be that you have to do something crazy.

Sometimes crazy with your spouse can be a good idea.

The reality is that everyday ways of noticing will do. It won’t feel like a lot, but day after day those steps add up.

In the same way that people lose weight and get out of debt over a period of time, your relationships are healed over a period of time.

Simple things.

Compliments.

Words of encouragement.

Praising your spouse in front of your kids or friends and family.

Pursuing them sexually.

Planning a date night.

Sending them a text in the middle of the day that says, “I’m praying for you” or, “I’m thinking about you. Hope your day is going well.”

Picking up after yourself.

Wearing that shirt or jeans they like.

Ironically, the way to get your spouse to notice you in marriage is almost identical to how you got them to notice you when you were dating.

Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture

The church that I lead is working on building a stronger leadership culture. In some parts of our church, like most, this is hitting on all cylinders. In other parts, it is lagging behind.

Recently, I read Leaders Made Here: Building a Leadership Culture by Mark Miller where he lays out a five step process for building a leadership culture in your church or organization that I thought was helpful:

1. Define it. Forge a consensus regarding your church’s working definition of leadership. How do you define leadership in your church? Many people have a definition of leadership or what makes a leader, but few teams have a consistent definition of leadership.

You’ll want to be able to answer these questions: What makes someone a leader in general? What makes someone a leader at your church? What are the attributes of a leader versus a doer or a follower?

2. Teach it. Ensure everyone knows your leadership point of view and leaders have the skills required to succeed.

There are so many ideas and resources out there to train leaders. What will you use? How will you help your volunteers and staff members grow as leaders?

Each staff member or team lead must think through how they will teach leadership to their teams on a weekly, monthly, quarterly and yearly basis. This doesn’t have to a big event, but it can be. Simple nuggets, simple teachings and reminders often go the furthest over time, if shared consistently.

3. Practice it. Create opportunities for leaders and emerging leaders to lead; stretch assignments prove and improve leaders.

Pastors hate giving things away. I have guesses as to why, but that’s for another post. The reality is that people become leaders by leading. By hHaving a chance to risk something, to succeed or fall flat on their faces. Young preachers need to stand in front of groups and preach (this doesn’t have to be, and probably shouldn’t be, the main worship service at the beginning).

4. Measure it. Track the progress for our leadership development efforts, adjusting strategies and tactics accordingly.

Pastors are notorious (and I do this more than I like to admit) for starting something and not creating any way to measure and track it.

How will you know if you are developing more leaders this month, this year than last? It needs to be more than, “we have more volunteers than last year.” That isn’t always a sign that you have built leaders or a leadership culture.

5. Model it. Walk the talk and lead by example – people always watch the leader.

Sadly in most churches and organizations, the higher you go up the ladder, the less likely those leaders are to create and develop leaders. For some it is an inability to do it, not being sure how to do it, but for many, it is a fear of being replaced by someone younger or better. If you don’t develop leaders though, your church stops when you do.

For me, discipleship and leadership development are two sides of the same coin. Thinking about it this way has been incredibly helpful when it comes to developing leaders. People want to follow people who are growing. If you are building spiritually mature leaders in your church, you will be helping them to grow as disciples and leaders.

God’s Love for You

One of the strongest and clearest messages throughout the Bible is God’s love for us. We are reminded that God doesn’t forget us (even though many of us feel forgotten), that God is close to us (even though He often feels far away), and that not only has He created us in His image but He knows us, and that doesn’t scare Him away (although we always fear that the moment someone truly knows us, they’ll bolt).

And yet, many of us still struggle to believe God loves us.

We believe God loves the world. We believe that through Jesus God will redeem and restore the world, but we have a hard time placing ourselves in that.

So we run, we hide, we put up fronts, wear masks, beat ourselves up for past mistakes, try to earn God’s love, try to prove ourselves worth God’s love, and all the while God’s love sits there.

If you’re like me, you can relate to this.

The problem for many of us is that we read verses about God’s love for the world and us (John 3:16), that Jesus loves us (John 15:9), that God predestined us in love (Ephesians 1:4 – 5), that God sings over us (Zephaniah 3:17), that God loved us first (1 John 4:19), that God draws us to Himself (John 6:44). We read the apostle Paul saying over 160 times that as a follower of Jesus, we are “in Christ”, and yet we live each and every day as if God is disappointed in us, indifferent towards us, mildly happy with us or just “likes” us.

We’ll say things like, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.” Or, “Yes, God loves me, but I can’t love myself.”

When we say those things, we have made love and forgiveness something it is not. We have based that on our own definitions and life.

Over the last two years, if there is one message that God has put on my heart for me to learn, it is this: His gracious, unrelenting, never stopping love for me.

Personally, I keep going back to Luke 15 and the stories that Jesus told. A shepherd who goes after a lost lamb, a woman who searches for a coin and a father who runs out to meet his son who doesn’t deserve grace, let alone a party. Through this passage, God has softened my heart to understand and feel His love.

Some of us (at least I did) balked a little at this because it seemed too emotional, made God too close and personal, and we feared it would take away His transcendence and power. He’s God, Creator of the universe. Yes, and He’s also a personal God who created you in His image and sent His Son to die in your place so He could rescue you and so you could know His great love for you.

Here’s my challenge to you. Spend as much time as you need, months or years. Dive into Luke 15 and the passages listed above and ask God, “Show me Your love for me; help me to understand and feel Your love for me.”

Links for Leaders 9/22/17

It’s the weekend…finally. The perfect time to grab a cup of coffee and catch up on some reading. Below, you’ll find some articles and podcasts I came across this week that I found helpful as a leader and parent and hope you do as well.

Before diving into those, in case you missed them this week. Here are the top 3 posts from my blog this week that I hope you find helpful:

Now, onto some more articles and podcasts to help you:

This post (Why Control Freaks Rarely Lead Large Organizations) from Carey Nieuwhof was the most convicting thing I’ve read as a leader in a long time. This hit me right where I am right now and nailed the struggle and tension that I feel as a leader.

If you’re a parent and a fan of podcasts, the last two Parent Cue podcasts have been great. The first is on how grandparents can help with parenting and being a great influence on kids. The second is on advice for the varying stages of fatherhood.

On a regular basis a guy will tell me about how his coworker “gets him.” Is more attractive than his spouse or some other reason why they should leave their spouse. Wrong. And Adam Weber has a great post on 5 reasons your coworker is cuter than your husband or wife.

If you’re a pastor or leader, you probably struggle with hiring. Hiring feels like pinning the tail on the donkey and seems to only workout half the time. Rich Birch, who has a fantastic podcast for leaders has some great axioms on hiring.

How to Know You’re a Christian

One of the struggles many people have is the question of assurance in their salvation. Maybe you grew up with a fear of your salvation. “Am I really saved? Because I did this or that, am I still saved?”

On the other end of the spectrum is a group that thinks they are right with God but aren’t. It might be because they try to be a good person, go to church, be generous or vote a certain way that makes them think they’re a Christian, but there isn’t anything different in their life or anything that shows any fruit.

Over and over in the New Testament, particularly from Jesus and John, we’re told that followers of Jesus will bear fruit, fruit that lasts.

But what is that fruit?

Paul tells us in Galatians that fruit is from the Spirit: But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Galatians 5:22 – 23)

Here’s a simple question: Do you see yourself growing in love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control?

A follower of Jesus isn’t given an option. You don’t get to say, “I’m just not a joyful person like so-and-so.” Or, “I’m just not very gentle.” Or, “I have an angry personality and I’m not very patient.”

Here’s a simple clue on where you stand in your relationship with God: Do you desire to grow in these? Do you desire to see this fruit show up in your life? Does it grieve you when they don’t? Do you see growth not only in showing this fruit but also in your desire for it in your life?

There are some of those in Galatians that, because of your personality and gifts, are easy for you, and others that are a stretch. The ones that are a stretch are the ones God wants to grow you in.

Here’s my challenge to you: Which of these do you not have a desire for? Which of what Paul lists do you need to grow in? Ask God.

What you will find is that God will not give you patience in the way you would think of it, but the opportunity for showing patience.