Love Is… (1 Corinthians 13)

I know that loving people is hard. It can be exhilarating and bring us so much joy, but it can also bring us heartache.

Last week Katie and I were with one of our mentors, and he said, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” That is hard because everyone in my life isn’t always easy to live with. They can be messy, difficult, get in the way and get on my nerves. I can do the same to them as well. That is what relationships are like.

I want to encourage you to continue thinking through how you can bring love to your relationships, especially the most important and closest ones to you.

If you aren’t familiar with 1 Corinthians 13 on love (a very popular wedding passage), let’s remind ourselves:

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love is patient. We are impatient people. We want food fast, internet fast and we get annoyed when Netflix buffers. We are also impatient relationally. This plays out by being demanding, bulldozing people and pushing too hard. It’s the worst with those closest to us, pushing them, expecting them to be what we want, to do what we want. Yet love says, “However long it takes for you to get your act together, I’ll be here.” Our culture says, “If they don’t change fast enough, if they hold you back, move on.”

Can you imagine Jesus saying, “You aren’t changing fast enough, so I’m done with you”, or, “You aren’t responding to me fast enough, so we’re done”? This is difficult, especially if you are a control freak in your life.

Love is kind. Kindness is actions, words, emotions and so much more.

In your relationships, do you use your presence and words to show kindness, or do you tear the other down? Kindness often is keeping your mouth shut when you’d love to open it. Not in a way to cover sin, but in a way to say, “That isn’t a big deal; I’ll let that go.”

Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. Envy is a longing for something that isn’t currently ours. Boasting is puffing ourselves up, focusing on ourself and our needs over the needs of others. Arrogance is thinking we’re better than we are. Rude is controlling the agenda and everyone around us.

When we envy others, boast, are arrogant or rude, we push people away.

Often we do these things to be right, but also to protect ourselves from getting hurt. If I envy you, then I can blame you for my problems. If I boast, I can put you down to make me feel better. The same is true of being rude. If I’m arrogant, I protect myself from getting hurt. If I’m not proud, I’m willing to open up my heart to hurt, yes, but I also open up my heart to love.

All these emotions and actions do is isolate us. In this passage Paul is inviting us to let go of these desires.

Love does not insist on its own way. Many times love is self-seeking and about what we want.

Why do we insist on our way? For protection, fear, pride, anxiety, control, just to name a few. Love gives in relationships; it doesn’t take.

Love doesn’t insist on perfection. In our photoshopped, air brushed culture, we insist on perfection. We take and re-take selfies. We only post our highlights or our low lights in a way to get love. Think the next time you post something, are you posting it for affirmation? Most of us do.

But love says, “I’ll accept you. I’ll walk with you.” Love says, “I won’t have an independent spirit.” This doesn’t mean you are co-dependent, because that’s unhealthy, but do you bring an independent, “I’m going to do what I want when I want” spirit to your relationships?

At the end of the day, this is empathy and a willingness to see from the other person’s perspective in a relationship.

Love is not irritable or resentful. We all know people who are resentful and always irritated. They keep a list of wrongs in relationships, reminding people of past hurts. They also always expect the worst in relationships.

Do you know where this comes from? It comes from their family of origin, but often it comes from the picture they have of the relationship.

For me, I am often my biggest critic. Every situation I am in with anyone, I have a picture in my mind of what that interaction and time will be like. What this does is prevent me from enjoying the moment. I have to constantly battle this. Multiple times a day I have to remind myself, “This is good enough. The world won’t end.” When we let go and enjoy, we more easily let go of hurt, we more easily let go of things that didn’t go the way we wanted them to go.

Love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. This goes with the last one.

Do you rejoice over the mistakes of those closest to you? Being able to say, “I told you it would go that way”, which puffs us up to show that we are right. We look at people who make mistakes in our lives and think, “How did you not know that would go that way?”

This also gets into the area of being historical in relationships. Do you find yourself saying, “Remember when…”, “You always…”, or “You never…”? Don’t miss this: No strong relationship is filled with the words always and never.

But what if the other person in my life is hard to love? What if my spouse is difficult? What if my child is hard to get along with? What if my parents or in-laws are always getting into our relationship?

Paul ends with what I think are the hardest parts of this passage, because they cost us the most.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things. This is the hardest part of love. This last verse shows us not only what God’s love towards us cost Him, but it shows us what love will cost us. It also shows us how strong love is.

Love can bear all things when we love the way God loves us. Love does not give up hope. Love is not naïve, but love is powerful. The love that Paul has been talking about in these verses is love that can bear all things, believe all things and hope all things.

But what if the other person doesn’t love like that?

Love endures all things. That’s why Paul ends with love endures all things.

You have the choice to endure all things, in love, even when things are the hardest and the darkest. Even when facing your hurt is painful, even when that person hurts you emotionally, you have the choice to love.

Will they return that love? Maybe not.

We love those around us the way we believe God loves us (1 John 4:19), whether we believe in God or not.

For example, if we believe God is indifferent towards us, this is how we approach most relationships. If we believe God is holding out on us, we will hold out on those closest to us in relationships. If we believe God has a short fuse, we will tend to have a short fuse. If we believe God doesn’t care what we do, this is how we will treat those closest to us.

How do I know this?

1 Corinthians 13 is a picture of God’s love toward us. All of these remind us of what God’s love is like.

God is not impatient or unkind with us. He is not pushy. God does not say to us, “Do you remember when you…”, or, “You always…” Instead, we are told that when we take the step of following Jesus and confessing our sins and need for Jesus, God remembers our sin no more. It is hard when we are hurt, carry around shame and regret and guilt from past relationships to see the truth. We are so used to seeing that relationship and all relationships through the lens of pain. Yet Jesus sets us free from our shame, regret and guilt. He is the power to overcome those experiences.

But why is love so hard?

Because, “The people God has placed in our lives are there to activate what God wants to transform.” So, as you read through the list in 1 Corinthians 13, you begin to see what God wants to transform in your life through what is difficult for you to live out.

Think of one thing, one relationship, and work on that. Change and growth take time, so don’t feel like you need to fix every relationship you have. That’s not possible. Give yourself permission to take your time. God isn’t in a rush.

Body Image, Weight Loss & the Nasty Mirror

I was sitting with Katie in a room with 50 other people. All of us were in ministry of some kind, and the speaker (who also is the counselor that Katie and I meet with) asked the question that stopped me in my tracks.

“How many of you are comfortable in your body?”

Now before I go on, there is something you need to know.

I’m 37 as I write this and I weigh 190 pounds. I do Crossfit four days a week, and I’ve never been in better shape or as strong as I am right now. That wasn’t always the case, though. In fact, when I was 28 I weighed 300 pounds, wore a 2 XL shirt and had a 42 inch waist.

As I sat there and thought about this question, the answer was, “No, I don’t feel comfortable in my body.”

Not a day goes by that I don’t look in the mirror and see a 300 pound 28 year old who hurts when he wakes up, sweats at the most inopportune moments and gets out of breath from walking up a flight of steps. I struggled to get on the floor to play with my kids.

And I still see that guy. I stare at myself in the mirror and think about it.

When I see body builders talk about having a cheat day, I cringe. Why? A cheat day is simply a step back to 300 pounds, is how my mind thinks. This often takes away the ability to enjoy food and simply relax. My wife is so kind, but I’m sure I drive her nuts when I miss a workout or feel off my game with food.

Is it possible to be comfortable in your body? Notice, the question is different than comfortable with your body.

I think it is.

Part of it has to do with accepting who you are, accepting the parts of your body that you would change (everyone has those). It also means celebrating the parts of your body that you do like. Yes, it also means enjoying food. Probably in moderation, though.

This past year, after eight years of counting calories (to teach myself how to eat), weighing myself almost daily, being insane about what I eat, I stopped. I still eat really healthy, but I’m working on stopping when I’m full. I’m enjoying life and what goes in my body. Yes, I punish myself at the gym, but that’s more out of a desire for strength and enjoyment of that punishment than trying to reach a certain body.

Am I comfortable in my body?

Not yet.

I’m closer than I was when I heard this question six months ago.

Your Growth Plan for the New Year

Statistically, most Americans will make resolutions and goals in January and not keep them.

They will range from quitting smoking, losing weight, getting out of debt, changing jobs, and the list goes on and on.

Some years it might be the same thing because you are not as far along as you want.

What if you don’t do this?

You’ll be like most other people. You’ll get to the end of next year and look back longingly at what could’ve been.

new year

Think for a minute. Let’s say your plan should be around getting healthy, getting out of debt or working on your marriage. What if you could move the needle just a little bit? What if next year, instead of $10,000 in debt it was $2,000 or none? What if your marriage took three baby steps in the next year? Wouldn’t thinking about this and being proactive be worth it?

If you’re still with me, here are some questions to help you think through a growth plan for the coming year:

  1. What do you want to change in your life?
  2. What things did you learn in the past year that you want to build on?
  3. What is one thing that, if you grew in it, would move you, your career, your relationships, further and faster?
  4. What book(s) of the Bible was convicting to you in the past year? What was most convicting and why?
  5. What area of your heart and past hurt have you put off dealing with?
  6. Who do you know that is further than you are in something that you can learn from?

Then ask those closest to you some of these questions. Yes, that is scary but so is living life and missing out because we didn’t grow and make changes.

The answers to these questions then help you to formulate a plan of what you will grow in for the coming year.

You can’t do it all.

When I lost 130 pounds in 18 months, that was my thing. I was solely focused on that and the heart issues surrounding that.

In other years, it has been preaching, prayer, adoption.

What I read, podcasts I listen to, blogs I follow, classes I take and people I talk to are around those ideas.

Make no mistake, the people who will get further in the coming year are the people who have decided what they will get further on. It will not just happen.

This is THE New Year

So it’s January.

This is the year.

This is the year you finally do what you have longed to do.

This is the year you take that step financially, spiritually, physically, relationally, emotionally.

This is THAT year.

I know. I know.

Statistically, this isn’t your year. It’s someone else’s year.

But, what if this was your year?

It has to be someone’s year, so why not yours?

Take a moment and thank God that you woke up this morning. That you are breathing. That you live somewhere with internet.

Thank God that it is a new year and what is past, while part of your story and who you are, is in the past.

It’s time to move forward.

Alright. Pep talk done.

Let’s get going!

How to Recover from Preaching

preaching

If I got to rank what I love about my job, preaching would be in the top two. I love the prep, working through a passage, a series, thinking through how to best present an idea, and praying about those who will be there, that God would work in their lives and draw them to Himself through my meager attempts at presenting His Word.

There is a downside to this love. It is what happens after preaching. The recovery.

I remember when Katie and I met with a doctor to talk about how to handle the adrenaline that goes with preaching, the emotional, relational and spiritual drain that it can be. (I’ve heard of pastors who sleep for days after preaching because their bodies can’t handle the adrenaline.) The doctor asked, “Is it like teaching a class?” It’s different for one reason – eternities hang in the balance. I heard one pastor describe preaching as “reaching into the road to hell and pulling people back.” (I realize there are some possible theological problems with that, but you get the point.)

The crash a pastor experiences the day after preaching can be brutal. Your whole body aches, your eyes hurt, you feel as low as you have felt all week. For me, I am often so stiff that I can’t bend down to pick something up off the floor after preaching.

So what do you do?

  1. Manage stress. Keep the day before and after preaching as stress free as possible. Don’t have meetings; stay focused on preaching and recovering.
  2. Recharge. I do something that recharges me. Hiking, running, playing with my kids, reading a book, drinking coffee with Katie. Read something that recharges you or takes your mind off church. This can be a novel or a spiritual book that challenges your own heart and soul as a human.
  3. Encouragement. Have some people who call/text to encourage you afterward. Have elders or friends check in with you to ask how they can pray for you, encourage you and let you know that they are lifting you and your family up in prayer.
  4. Eating. Most pastors are notoriously poor eaters. What you eat before and after preaching is incredibly important. What you eat will make it easier or harder to preach, to sleep, to recover. Make sure you also drink enough water to stay hydrated.
  5. Move forward. As quickly as possible, move on to next week. Regardless of how your weekend went, good or bad, the next weekend is coming very quickly. So move on. Don’t dwell on what happened (especially if it was bad). Celebrate what God did, learn from what you did poorly, but move on.

Living and Leading in ‘The In-Between’

the in-between

As a leader you will often find yourself in the in-between times of life and leadership. What I mean by the in-between is that you know where you are going personally, your dreams and goals; or with your church or organization, you see the vision, the place. But you can’t go there yet. It might be timing, it might be that you need more finances, more leaders, maybe you are needing to allow people time to train or get used to the idea.

Whatever it is, the in-between time is tough to not only live in but to lead in.

Leaders feel this when they know their church should make a change, kill a program, add a staff member they can’t afford or change locations, but they are in a waiting period.

The in-between.

We know this feeling when we want to complete school, start dating someone who isn’t there yet, get married to a person who isn’t ready.

The in-between.

It is the pain of longing to have children that never happens. It is the late nights as we wait for kids to fall asleep, to start listening or to simply grow up and move out so we can get to the next season of life.

The in-between.

Many of us live our lives longing to be in the next place.

In the in-between, you know where you are going, but you can’t talk about it with everyone. You need to wait for more information, for things to fall into place before you let people know and clarify things. A leader lacks influence when he says, “In eight months this change will happen. So we’ll just wait until then, but it’s coming.”

In the in-between you can get antsy and frustrated because it isn’t getting here. The frustration also comes from seeing things as they are when you know what they will be like, and you have to wait for it. That’s not easy. It means biting your tongue, grinning and bearing some things until it’s time.

The in-between is also a time that your faith is stretched, you learn about your impatience, your lack of belief in the power and control of God as you wonder why He is taking so long, as if His timing is not perfect.

Leadership in this time is difficult because momentum is easily lost. The reason it can be lost is because you as the leader have moved into the future, but you can’t talk about it yet. Consequently, you are running out of steam on where things are. You have to stay mentally engaged in the present, where God has you and your church.

The in-between time is also the time that grows us the most. That’s the blessing of it. Without it, we can never get to the place God wants us to be. It is easy to despair in the in-between, but if we do, we miss the point of it.

You Become What You Think About the Most

you

I came across this in How the Best Leaders Lead by Brian Tracy

You become what you think about most of the time.

Most of the time, leaders think about the qualities of leadership and how to apply them daily.

Leaders have a clear vision of where they are going, and they convey this vision to everyone around them.

Leaders have the courage to take risks, to move forward, to face danger with no guarantee of success.

Leaders have integrity. They deal honestly and straightforwardly with each person. They tell the truth, and they always keep their word.

Leaders are humble. They get results by using the strengths and knowledge of those around them. They know how to listen, and they know how to learn.

Leaders have foresight. They continually look ahead and anticipate what might happen. They make provisions to guard against possible reversals and put themselves into a position to take advantage of possible opportunities.

Leaders focus on what’s important. They concentrate their time and resources, and the time and resources of the company, on the activities that will make the most difference.

Leaders cooperate well with others. They are liked and respected by everyone around them. They go out of their way to get along well with the key people upon which the company depends. They truly believe that people are their most valuable asset.

The best companies (churches) have the best leaders. The second-best companies (churches) have the second-best leaders. The third-best companies (churches), in these times of turbulence, are unfortunately on their way out of business.

The most important contribution you can make to your company (church) is to be a leader, accept responsibility for results, and dare to go forward.

How to Trust God

trust God

Maybe you still struggle with this question, “Can I trust you, God?” After all, when we sin, we are telling God we don’t think we can trust him. This is a question everyone has; in fact, it is the same question Abraham had in the Old Testament.

If you’ve grown up in church, you know the story of Abraham, and our knowledge of his story kind of takes away some of the amazingness. In Genesis 12, we have this man named Abram. He all of a sudden appears in the pages of Scripture. He is out in the desert and he hears a voice. A voice he may have heard before, but maybe not. We aren’t told. This voice, God from heaven, tells him to pack up what he has and move “to a land I will show you.”

Now picture this: Abram goes home and tells his wife Sarai that they are to pack up and go to a land that this voice (God) will show them. I always wonder what that was like. If she was like most wives, she probably asked him how long he’s been hearing this voice. Has it said other things? Did it give any directions? Any hints on what lay ahead?

No, Abram would tell her. Only that we are to start walking and stop when he says.

What God does tell Abram is that he will one day be a great nation and that all the people of the world will be blessed through him. The irony of this is that Abram has no children and is seventy-five years old.

Finally, as he walks to this land, there is a fascinating promise given to Abram in Genesis 15. Time has passed, and Abram and Sarai still do not have a child. From their perspective, they are not any closer to being a great nation than when they left their home. So Abram does what we would do. He whines to God. Complains, actually.

God takes it and is incredibly patient with Abram through this entire conversation. As Abram unloads his feelings of despair, lack of faith, anger, and hurt over his desire to be a father, but yet not having this desire met (are you beginning to see the connection between not trusting God and giving in to temptation or other sins?), God tells him to look to the heavens and number the stars. Abram can’t number the stars, as there are too many of them. “So,” God tells him, “shall your offspring be.”

God doesn’t just stop there. He tells Abram what he (God) has done. What is interesting to me is that when God gives commands in Scripture, in particular the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20, before giving a command, he reminds the people of what he has done. God is about to make a covenant, a promise with Abram, but before he does, he reminds Abram of what he has done so far. He hasn’t just led him to a new place and promised him a son; he has guided, provided, and protected him and his family.

Then and only then does God give commands or make covenants. In Exodus 20, before giving Moses the law, he reminds him, “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery”(20:2). This is the foundation of the commands of God, his promise and the freedom that he provides.

In Genesis 15, after reminding Abram, he makes a covenant with Abram. We aren’t told in Scripture if Abram asked for it, but he was at least doubting and wondering if this was going to happen. He was complaining to God, as we would do. This has always been a comfort to me, that God doesn’t strike down questions in the Bible, but listens and answers them.

God tells Abram to bring him a heifer, a female goat, a ram, a turtledove, and a young pigeon. Abram did, and cut them all in half. In this time period, when two people made a covenant, they would kill the animals and cut them in half, and then they would walk through the animals, saying, “If I don’t keep my end of the covenant, may I end up like these animals.”

It was getting late and Abram fell asleep. Then God made a covenant with Abram, while he was asleep. As the sun set and it was dark, a smoking fire pot and flaming torch passed between the pieces. Abram never passed through the animals; only God did.

This is the extent to which God goes to keep his promises as our Father. He makes the promise and keeps it, even when we don’t. Even in our moments of failure, doubt, and fear, he is still strong and sure.

How God Turns Shame and Guilt into Joy

shame

Jesus’ first miracle wasn’t just about wine—it was an act of purification from the Messiah, one that saved people from generations of sin and shame.

All of us have things in our lives we aren’t proud of.

These are things that maybe you’ve done or have been done to you. Your parents’ marriage may have fallen apart, and you find yourself still feeling the effects. It may be your marriage wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It might be a sin or addiction that you are ashamed of, something that you wish you could stop. The kind of thing that after doing it, you feel dirty like you need to take a shower. Only, there isn’t really anything you can do to feel clean.

It wasn’t until working on a sermon on John 2 that I began to see the significance of Jesus’ first miracle. A miracle that, according to Tim Keller, can be seen as simply fixing a social oversight, but has so much more going on:

When the wine ran out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what does this have to do with me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars there for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. And he said to them, “Now draw some out and take it to the master of the feast.” So they took it. When the master of the feast tasted the water now become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the master of the feast called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and when people have drunk freely, then the poor wine. But you have kept the good wine until now.” This, the first of his signs, Jesus did at Cana in Galilee, and manifested his glory. And his disciples believed in him. –John 2:3–11

During this time, marriage was an enormous event. The entire town would be invited and the celebration would last for up to a week. This was not simply about the couple, but was a sign of the strength of the town and community.

For the wine to run out was not a simple party oversight. This would be seen as an insult to the town and the guests. The ramifications of this happening could be felt for decades to come in terms of standing in the community, business dealings, and overall appearance. The shame heaped upon this family would be no small thing. In the same way, the shame in our lives that we carry around often comes from things in our families past. We feel the effects of an abusive grandfather we have never met or an alcoholic grandmother who is whispered about.

But Jesus didn’t just change water into wine to save this family from embarrassment and shame.

SWEETEST PURIFICATION

You see, for the Jewish people, weddings were a sign of the Messiah. Weddings were a picture of his coming, of what heaven would be like. There were also prophecies in Joel, Hosea, and Amos indicating that wine would flow freely over a barren, dry land from the Messiah (Joel 2:243:18Hosea 14:7Amos 9:3). This imagery would not be lost on the Jews who saw this miracle.

John also points out that Jesus had them fill up purification jars. This was not what they normally used for wine, as these were the jars the Jews used to cleanse themselves to worship God, to enter the temple, to purify them. Jesus, at a wedding, which is a picture of the Messiah coming, with wine. Using purification jars that are used to make one right with God, turning guilt and shame into joy.

Later in the Gospels, Jesus will bring his disciples together for a Passover meal, hold up wine and declare it to be his blood (Matt. 26:28). Then, in Revelation 21, John tells us that when Jesus returns, it will be as a bridegroom at a wedding (Rev. 21:2).

PERSONAL JESUS

It is easy for us to miss all this without the history and picture. But, we do another thing that hinders our joy. When we read in the Gospel and Epistles of John about God loving the world or Jesus taking away the sins of the world, we picture “the world,” a globe filled with people. We don’t picture ourselves.

This past Easter at my church, we had a huge cross in a service where we wrote down specific sins that Jesus died for. It was quite an experience listing sins that Jesus has forgiven me of, that Jesus died for. It was a great picture for me to see, Jesus turned my shame into joy through his death and resurrection.

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The Most Important Trait for Success

success

What is the most important trait for success?

Do you know what separates the winners and the losers when it comes to leadership and succeeding?

It isn’t what you think.

I was listening to a podcast interview recently where Thom Rainer was interviewing John Maxwell, and Rainer asked Maxwell what is the most important leadership trait for success, and Maxwell replied, “Consistency.”

I had to rewind it.

Consistency.

If you ever read a biography about an athlete or watch stories on the Olympics about those who make it and win, what you will hear is the story of a person who got up early everyday, ate a strict diet, everyday. Did the same stuff, everyday. Practiced, practiced and practiced some more. They were consistent.

That isn’t exciting, sexy or anything. That isn’t about vision, team building, recruiting or fund raising.

Yet if you think about it, it fuels all of leadership.

It fuels vision. No one will follow you to that next great hill, that next great destination, if they don’t trust you and believe in you. They won’t follow you as far if you are new compared to having a track record. Are you consistent? If so, people will follow you further.

It fuels team building. People want to be a part of a team that has a great track record. They want to be with a leader that has been around and accomplished a lot. They are hesitant to follow someone with a lot of turnover on a team. They want someone – wait for it – consistent.

The same goes with recruiting.

Now comes fundraising. This is crucial in church leadership. Your ministry has a ceiling, and it comes from a variety of places, but one of those places is finances. The leaders who are able to raise the most money have a track record of handling money well. They have a track record of being in one place, having a strong team, strong vision, strong character.

They are consistent.

It fuels leadership.

It fuels success.

People may say a lot about you as a leader, but would they say you are consistent? Are you the same person everywhere?

Here’s something that can frustrate you as a leader. You want to start something new, and people don’t want to come along. You think it is them. They just don’t see what you see. They aren’t as spiritual, they don’t have big enough faith. We as leaders tell ourselves all kinds of things about why people don’t get on board with something, and the things we tell ourselves are always about the people.

What if you haven’t been consistent, and people are hesitant? What if the reason people don’t want to give is they aren’t sure you’ll complete the project and stay?

Leadership is vision casting, team building and all those things. But it starts and ends with character and consistency.