Raw Reflections from the Journey

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Understanding Anger - Part I

As a counselor I teach that anger is the master emotion; the one we are likely to feel and express before or in place of sadness, fear, embarrassment, etc. Sometimes we experience anger in response to loss as part of the grieving process, and sometimes it fuels a courageous response to injustice (righteous indignation).

Recently I've come across a fresh perspective on anger from Henri Nouwen in The Way of the Heart. It has been helpful to me in understanding some of the angst I sometimes experience; angst that has at times stolen the joy of the Lord, and peace in my heart. It will take a bit of time to go through this, but I think it's worth it. I'll be curious to hear what you think.

Nouwen begins with the role of oughts and musts in our anger.

Our society is not a community radiant with the love of Christ, but a dangerous network of domination and manipulation in which we can easily get entangled and lose our soul. The basic question is whether we ministers of Jesus Christ have not already been so deeply molded by the seductive powers of our dark world that we have become blind to our own and other people's fatal state and have lost the power and motivation to swim for our lives [reference to writing of the Desert Fathers who considered society a shipwreck from which each individual man had to swim for his life].

Just look for a moment at our daily routine. In general we are very busy people. We have many meetings to attend, many visits to make, many services to lead. Our calendars are filled with appointments, our days and weeks filled with engagements, and our years filled with plans and projects. There is seldom a period in which we do not know what to do, and we move through life in such a distracted way that we do not even take the time and rest to wonder if any of the things we think, say, or do are worth thinking, saying or doing. We simply go along with the many "musts" and "oughts" that have been handed on to us, and we live with them as if they were authentic translations of the Gospel of our Lord. People must be motivated to come to church, youth must be entertained, money must be raised, and above all everyone must be happy. Moreover, we ought to be on good terms with the church and civil authorities; we ought to be liked or at least respected by a fair majority of our parishioners; we ought to move up in the ranks according to schedule; and we ought to have enough vacation and salary to live a comfortable life. Thus we are busy people, just like all the other busy people, rewarded with the rewards which are rewarded to busy people!

So, what do you think? I think Nouwen is implying that we set ourselves up for anger by attempting to serve the idols of our day; what we ought to have, who we ought to be, what we ought to be accomplishing, etc. And that when we somehow fall short of the oughts and shoulds that we're prone to anger because we don't have what we ought to have.

But what if the having, being and doing isn't the essence of life in the Kingdom of God? What would it be like to be content that we have what the King wants us to have, that we get to do what He wants us to do, accomplish what He wants to be accomplished and experience the regard of others that He wants us to enjoy?

In Oswald Chambers My Utmost for His Highest devotional titled The Bewildering Call of God he says that when we have a purpose our our own it destroys the peaceful tranquility of spirit that should characterize the lives of God's children. Hmm. Is your life characterized by tranquil peace and joy? Is mine? If not, are some oughts, shoulds and musts acting as culprits in the service of the enemy who is always seeking to steal, kill and destroy?

Blessings, Jeff

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Relaxed Relationship: How to Have a Lifegiving Gathering

It started small, and grew into a gathering that filled our home with love and laughter. Rich and Sharon wanted to see Carly and Gabby while they were home. Rob and Jenny called to ask if they could stop by after their weekly date. Mom (Patty Grandma to Gabby) loves to hang out with her family so we invited her to stay awhile. Sarah came with her parents, and Matt left a party for awhile to say hey to everyone...

Envision a family holiday gathering. People arrive at different times. Conversations are relaxed and natural. Curious questions abound, "Hey, how did it go with...Did you know that...I heard that you..."

A fast forward film of such a gathering would show people moving around to sit in different places and talk to different people. Relational connections in our gathering were fluid and fun. I especially liked "showing" Matthew to the door ala Michael Strahan's greeting of Donovan McNabb! (click to watch)

I think most of us checked something off our "bucket list" the other night. We laughed until we cried, and then laughed some more. Carly queried Rob (click here then scroll down) on and off for half an hour about his work as a funeral director. Her questions were serious, and Rob's answers were alternately touching and hysterical. What I liked best about the whole sequence was that there was "relational space" for them to have the interaction and for the rest of us to be blessed and entertained. Rob shared his heart about deaths that personally touched him and how this work/ministry gives him opportunity to serve families with his God-given gifts. Later in the weekend I asked Carly if such work intrigued her, "Yeah, maybe." All that from an informal, relaxed relational interaction.

Then Richard was a good sport to allow stories from the period of his marital separation. Thank GOD that is all behind all of us who were involved in it. The way God prepared Rich and Sharon for this was not lost on our gathering either. I dare say the youth (and even some of the adults) left w/ a new benchmark regarding Godly pursuit of relational healing, and persistence in His plan and purpose for our lives! Thanks Rich.

Why did I want to write this? Because I want such gatherings to be multiplied in my life, and yours. It was an abundantly life-giving time that could have lasted into the wee hours. It was fun, funny, empowering, uplifting, encouraging, loving, etc; all the things that life amidst the fellowship of believers can be!

What now?

I like the way that Wayne Jacobsen and Tom Wymore talk about such gatherings of believers in their blogs, and the way Wayne describes it in Jake's book.

All the best as you too seek to live in the midst of life-giving relationships with God and each other!


Thursday, November 4, 2010

Dead to Doing

I expected to only record a 5 minute blurb for the local Christian Radio station; that was their invitation. But, their ask was different when I got there, "Would you be willing to record eight segments for a show on Monday?" Ok. I was pleased with my internal response, "Whatever, Lord."

Upon return to Springfield which began as a part-time commute last January, I heard, "Wait to be invited." That's a pretty significant guideline for a type A, choleric driver who likes to get a lot done. But, it was a reiteration of His ongoing direction to me/us since 2006, "Do well with those I put on your path."

The way of some ministries we'd been involved with to that point was to drive, drive, drive, push, push, push...for numbers; the more the better (but was it really?). Sure, the Kingdom of God is about numbers, He wills that none would perish. But it must be Him who opens the doors of influence and opportunity.

A local pastor with growing influence in my life (Neil Haney) talks about Christ working through us vs. working for Him. The latter leaves us exhausted on adrenaline peaks and valleys, but the former is a peaceful flow and release of His life through us, to others, wherever and whenever He directs.

There was a time I would have thought that a "media appearance" was the best thing in my week. "I'm validated. Someone wants to hear from me!" But for some reason, it's different now. I was content to fulfill my friend's request at WEEC for a 5 minute blurb, and just as content to keep talking as they opened the door to share more. "Whatever", I thought. "He will open doors that can't be shut, and shut doors that can't be opened."

It's a more peaceful and joyful existence to wait for His invitations, and to peaceably walk in what He wants, releasing His life within where He directs. Goodbye striving and straining...hello godliness with contentment.


Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Phone Tag (and other threats to fulfillment of our calling)

“You’re it…call me back.” Ugghh. It’s a tiring game, and one I’ve increasingly refused to play; back and forth we go, wasting 90 seconds at a time in meaningless messages, “Shucks, missed you again. Please call me back.” More often now, I leave instructions on how to schedule some mutually convenient time to talk or meet in person.

Jill and I used to expend vast amounts of energy in call backs and emails to schedule appointments. But for the past year we’ve eliminated most of that by using an online schedule, Schedulicity, www.schedulicity.com. Clients with web access can view available appointments any time of the day or night, and then “book” an appointment for the date and duration they need. They receive a receipt to confirm the booking, and a reminder 24 hours in advance of their appointment, and we receive notification by email and text message. Wonderful!

I’ve even begun to use the service to schedule calls with friends and mentors, “Hey ____, would you mind scheduling a brief call (10-15 minutes, or 30 or 60 minutes) at a time that is mutually convenient? If it is on my calendar page on the website, feel free to schedule some time together. If that doesn’t work for some reason, just call, text or email and we’ll schedule some time the old-fashioned way.” A few have pushed back on this. “It seems impersonal.” Just today, another friend registered his displeasure, “At this rate (he mixed up the time zones and had to cancel), we’ll never talk. Do you ever take impromptu calls, or does everyone have to schedule time to talk with you?” I replied to feel free to call at his convenience, but his message got me thinking.

Why am I doing this? At the root, it has to do with fulfillment of calling as affected by time and energy management. At the root, it has to do with following the example of Jesus’ boundaries. There were times he invested in people, and times he invested in relationship with His father, and his own rest and rejuvenation which was the source of his power for effective public ministry. As a man, he had limits and he knew it.

Steve Grissom, founder and developer of Divorce Care, and other such ministries (GriefShare, Divorce Care for Kids, etc.), pulled me into his office for an impromptu intervention in 2006. “Right now, in your early 40’s (I was 41), you think you can do anything and everything, but you are going to have to focus. To have the impact that God intends you to have, you are going to have to say no more than you say yes, and be very careful about how you invest your time and energy.” For two hours Steve made his case, illustrating this principle from his own life and others. His words stuck with me, and they’ve been reinforced by others.

Those closest to me, (Jill and ministry partners from 2006-2009, Rich and Sharon Wildman, check out their ministry, Stubborn Pursuits), often said that I would need to be sent away to a cloistered retreat to complete the writing they want me to finish (i.e., training materials and some books). “As long as people with needs are around, you’ll try to help them, and never get the writing done that will help even more”, Jill said. She’s been right. I’ve had to turn off my cell phone, refuse to answer the land-line, and close Outlook to avoid emails when on deadline to finish some writing (e.g., training materials one-week in advance of the class, and articles).

So, do I take impromptu calls? Sometimes; if I’m able. What does that mean? It means if I’m not on task with a pre-determined priority, such as reading and prayer, conversation with Jill, exercise, recuperation from being with people (i.e., coaching and counseling, writing, etc.) I’ll pick up a call.

What my friend may not understand is that relegating him to an online schedule protects my calling from perpetual diversion and dilution, but also that it protects and provides for a quality and enduring relationship. Public times on my schedule are pre-determined and planned for. Prior to public times for friendship, counseling, coaching, teaching and training, I prepare to be my best. I rest, pray, eat and exercise in order to be my best for others. And since I’m an introvert who restores his energy in private time alone, there is only so much time I can be “Public”. In addition, since writing is one of the modalities through which I am to execute my calling to inspire and equip others for life-giving relationship with God and each other, some of my best-energy periods of life need to be protected from interruption in order to get things on paper.

Does all of this sound selfish, insensitive and impersonal or wise?

I’ve lived a helter-skelter adrenaline fueled lifestyle for a long time. But as Steve Grissom said, “That can’t continue without significant detriment to you physically, and compromise of the mission you were made to execute. Besides, as you realize physical limitations, you will necessarily become more careful about what you do and who you do it with.”

Will I take an impromptu call? Yes, if possible.

Will I continue to ask even friends to schedule an appointment time for us to be together? Yes. And that will be due to my respect for our relationship, and desire to give my best when we meet. I hope they’ll understand and support that.

Continuing the Journey!


Sunday, October 24, 2010

An Angel in our Garage!

My thrifty wife loves to organize garage sales to bless others in need and rid ourselves of superfluous items in our household. A recent move underscored the fact that we have plenty of material possessions to sustain life, so why not give of our abundance to others?

Every time we hold such a sale we collect memories for a lifetime, but October 22, 2010 was exceptional. Numerous events and conversations will provide the fodder of stories for months to come!

I spotted him out of the corner of my eye as I forked another mouthful of eggs into my mouth. "Ought oh! We failed to cover some of the items we didn't want to sell!!" The vagrant had found my shoes! My precious shoes! Running, golf, cycling and even a pair of prized dress shoes. "I've got to stop him!" I thought. But one of our sharp helpers beat me to the intervention. He walked away.

Instantaneously I heard, "Maybe he needs shoes." My eyes fell to my feet where I found a pair of very nice and comfortable running shoes given to me a week ago by a friend. Hmm! A generous friend provided for me. Perhaps I can provide for the vagrant?

I wasn't surprised that the needy gentleman was still wandering around in our garage after I'd taken my time to finish breakfast. He wouldn't be the first "visitor" God sent to emphasize a teaching point.

"Sir, do you need a pair of shoes?" I asked. He looked up with kind eyes and smiled as he reached for my hand. "Hello", he said. He didn't fit the profile of a homeless man. There was no odor, and the sparkle in his eyes was, well...other worldly.

"Sir, if you need some shoes, I'd be happy to gift you with these" I continued. "Thank you, kind sir. I'm happy to receive your gift." He smiled once more and then turned to slowly walk away with my shoes as if they were a prized possession.

As I watched him shuffle away (he might have been eighty), I heard, "Whatever you do unto the least of these...you do to me." I'm surprised that I didn't collapse in humbling gratitude regarding the lengths to which God goes to make His way known, and to give me an opportunity to walk in it. Say what you want, but I'm convinced that God sent a servant, (once again) to reiterate a timely message. "Give freely to me as to you I have freely given."

Would it surprise you that this event preceded a miraculous conversation with one who has been despairing of life and recently came within inches of ending it? Their pride almost kept them from salvation (both eternal and temporal), but as I'd been recently emboldened and reminded of Jesus' way, I boldly challenged them to accept the gift of cousnel, support and encouragement that they might continue to live to give to others, even their own offspring....

HE has quite a way of working with us, eh? What's your story? What has He been teaching you lately?

Continuing to live with expectation or Holy Surprises!


Gift Giving: It's more blessed to give than to receive

He came bright-eyed and bushy tailed at the opening of our garage sale, a happy little lad about 5 years old accompanied by his father, hopeful to find some treasures to take home. I pointed him to Noah's Ark, a beautifully carved hand painted boat with dozens of individual animals to place on and in the boat.

I didn't really want to see this item sold. My mom purchased it years ago for our children but now they're grown, and it's been sitting unused. "How much do you want for it?" asked the little lad being coached by his father. I was conflicted. It seemed too valuable to set a price. "Would you enjoy having this?" I asked. "Oh yes!" he exclaimed. "Would you take good care of it and share with your sister?" "Yes" he emphasized with exuberant nodding. "Then it's yours...for you, it's free." "Really?" he exclaimed. "Thank you." And that was that...until I thought about it a bit more, later. Free wasn't accurate. I wish I'd said, "It's a gift" because in truth, it wasn't free. It was actually fairly expensive. I know how much mom paid for it.

So, the lad got a gift paid for by someone else. Sounds like a gift we've all been given, eh? "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, Our Lord" (Romans 6:23, NIV). What a gift...but it wasn't free. Someone paid dearly.

My little friend didn't protest the gift. He happily and humbly received it, and that gave me such joy! I hope that he and his sister wear it out! How awesome it is to see gifts being enjoyed, and fully utilized...

What joy it must give God and Jesus when His gift of Salvation and intimate, loving, gracious relationship is joyfully accepted.

There's more. Several other morning gift-giving experiences prepared me to boldly challenge a person in need to accept the gift of a friend's gift of friendship, and my gift of counseling ministry. "I can't afford the fees" they protested over the phone. "But you are in a hole and really need help" I responded. "Yes." "Well, how are you going to get out of the hole unless you reach for and accept the hands that are reaching for you? In effect, we are extension of God's hands, and He wants to pull you out. If you don't accept our gifts, you interfere with the joy of giving, and besides, God has plans for you to help others. This is your time to receive, so that you too can give." "Ok, I get it. I'll be in to see you in a little bit." What transpired then was inspired by the Gift-giver Himself. I believe that salvation has come to yet another household.

The bottom line? Since it's more blessed to give than to receive, I pray you (and me) the grace to obey when prompted to give. And when it's time to receive; the grace to receive joyfully and to make good use of the gifts that have been given.

Enjoying the Journey,


Thursday, October 21, 2010

Essential Encouragement - A Symphony of Support Prompted by Papa

"Hey Jeff, this is random, but I was just listening to the radio and I heard, 'Don't worry about your ministry. Pray a lot, and trust God.' You came strong to mind, and I wanted to know that I'm praying for you, and often do. No need to call back. We love you guys and miss you."

Awesome. A sixty second message that lifts the soul. This sister we've known for 30 years acted on a timely prompt. What she didn't know, but Father does, is that the weight of ministry was especially heavy yesterday; an unexpectedly intense conversation with a good friend, a crisis appointment, completion of a carefully contemplated report on some team-building assessments for a Church, journal entries from a client with palpable pain on the page.

People despairing of life, uncertain about the future, worried about whether or not there's been too much water under the dam to keep their marriage and family afloat any longer. To the compassionate caregiver it hurts and feels sad. Then there's the challenge of hearing from Father to serve those in need per the gifts He's given.

We can't do it alone.

John Eldredge's devotional message this morning was about the necessity of compassionate and encouraging companions for the journey. Thank God for friends who hear and obey prompts to reach out to care.

Better yet, thank God for His constant companionship, and constant conversation (speaking and listening prayer). He is always with me, always attentive, and somehow always responsive (through His Spirit, His Word, and people with skin on to hear, to encourage, and to hug).

Who is on your mind today, and why? Would you dare pray for guidance, and even ask if there is something Father would have you say or do to help them along the way?



Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Good Grief!

My eyes still burn from some crying today. Jill, Laura and I said goodbye, AGAIN, to Carly and Gabby after a trip to see them and present a seminar in Baltimore area. But the tears of sorrow about going our separate ways are combined with tears of gratitude. Our daughter and granddaughter seem to be thriving, not just surviving their new life (The women and children’s program at Wilson College which they began August 15).

“I’m more than happy to sacrifice for their good, Jeff. Carly is growing and getting a great education, and Gabby is thriving too (in her pre-school, with new friends)!”

Loss, change, transition; a myriad of thoughts and feelings accompany these experiences; Tears, memories, hugs… And while it’s not easy to feel the feelings, such times are navigable, especially when we ask Jesus to walk with us through them. After all, he is a man familiar with sorrows and acquainted with grief.

It was an exciting weekend. Upon arrival in Chambersburg, PA, Gabby quivered with smiles and squeals when she saw us. “She remembers us!” Big hugs and kisses preceded our dinner. Wow! Does she ever love her Sissie! And each of us got our turn with the guileless child, “I like you”, she said as she sat down on my lap and hugged.

But there were struggles, too. Since we’re only in the 7th week of transition from living in Maryland to our new life in Ohio, Jill and I are still experimenting to discover a rhythm of quality time together. The bottom line is that the task of setting up and running a counseling practice has eaten into time we used in the past to thoroughly communicate about every facet of our lives; a necessity we think for those involved in relationship ministry; we’ve got to have a strong and pleasurable relationship if we’re goint to export that to others.

Surprisingly, it’s been one of the toughest times we’ve faced. Even as much good is happening (i.e., strides toward financial and ministry goals) the enemy seeks to devour and destroy with irksome misunderstandings and sensitivities. But thank God that when we reach for Him, He gives us a multitude of ways to withstand the evil onslaught. As we often remind our clients, the sword of the Spirit, The Word of God, is an incredible offensive weapon in the Christian Soldier’s arsenal (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Take heart fellow and sister sojourners. The One in us is greater than the one in the world, and He has given us everything we need for life and Godliness.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Breathing Room and Disorientation

I'm having a hard time getting my motor going to do anything but rest, breathe and enjoy my favorite aerobic recreation of cycling (280 miles over the past eight days; I know, crazy...). Don't get the wrong idea though. There is a never-ending list of honey-do's to help Jill feel settled in our new home, home office, office and midwest U.S. culture (I had eight months of commuting to adjust, but she will have been in Clark County, OH for just 3 weeks tomorrow).

Something significant has transpired in my spirit, but I can't quite put my finger on it or articulate it very well yet, so I'm going to process out loud with you (and graciously accept some peer coaching during which you can open and hold my heart by asking and listening if you are inclined).

It feels like we've crossed the finish line of an ultra-marathon race in which the finish line was hidden, and the only way to complete it was to run with intensity, nothing held back, until God decided to drop in the finish line on the course after about six years (Sept. 2004 was culmination of year-long development of Community Marriage Policy and beginning of our move to DC, while Sept 2010 is readjustment to our hometown). In some ways it would have been easier to continue living under duress of our lifestyle and circumstances on the East Coast. When you've been running hard it's sometimes very disorienting to STOP...like an Indy car driver going from 200mph on the course to a dead stop in the pits.

But it seems that God has appointed a new place for us to live, at least for a season (how does one ever know when in His service?)

In less than a month's time:
- He rented our house in MD to a Christian couple
- He arranged for a palatial home in OH with double the space of our home in MD and half the occupants (what's up w/ that?)
- He put us in proximity to family and friends (old shoe friends; the kind with which you are really comfortable cause you've been wearing them a long time)

And I just want to exhale, breath, and rest. Laura commented today that this weekend I've been living like Harley (our dog), "Mom, all he's doing is sleeping, eating, and exercising...I grinned, and went back to sleep...aaahhh!

Jill is trying to get settled in our new home, home office, office and a very different cultural setting; all that while dealing with yet another laptop crash, and fender bender in the High School parking lot (Welcome Back!)

We're not too worried about ourselves. This is our eighth home in five cities in twenty-five years of marriage; in other words, we're somewhat practiced at relocation and adjustment. Rule of thumb - Give yourself 3 months to adjust before getting worried about emotional undulations or confusion. Us humans are fairly resilient creatures, but we require time in transition to establish new patterns or to groove "old" patterns into new settings.

The best news is that Jesus moved with us. In fact, it appears He came before us to prepare the way. I know it may sound silly, but I did wonder if I would be able to hear Him and relate to Him in a similarly intimate fashion here (Oh) as there (MD/DC). I'm relieved that He is here too, and that hearing Him is as easy as ever; to hear Him only requires constant conversation.

Well, that's it the update on life at our new outpost, Clark County, Ohio.

God bless ya'll! Jeff

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Moving and Memories

It's been more than a month since I wrote. On July 12 I confessed being brokenhearted. Today, I'm not sure about all the feelings I feel, but a big one is gratitude; I'm grateful to God for His perfectly choreographed series of no's, not yet's and yes's that we have experienced as a family over the past five years, six months and twenty-four days (since we moved into a home in the greater Washington D.C. area). This has been an unprecedented learning experience for all of us. It's been grueling and exhilarating; exactly what all of us needed to come to the end of ourselves and to the beginning of God.

Yesterday we saw 30-40 some men and women of the Waterboyz for Jesus, www.Waterboyz.org move the contents of our home onto two trucks (see photo album on facebook if you are interested). The neighbors are still talking about the remarkable way it was done. "Who were all those people?" WOW! Moved out in one morning. The first waves arrived about 9:35am, and the "finishers" left about 1pm after fitting our earthly belongings mostly onto one 26 foot Penske Truck (not a Budget truck, ala Tony Stoltzfus!)

But while our "belongings" fit onto a couple of trucks, our memories don't. Those we carry with us in our minds and hearts.

As I looked around the group that gathered I remembered rounds of golf, a trip to Myrtle beach, numerous "table" meetings where we transparently shared the struggles and victories of life, and a few men and couples whose marriages we'd served. And the number of folks we've interacted with for mutual impact is thousands more who we didn't know at all five years ago. God simply impressed on us to serve those He put on our path, and still those marching orders remain.

One friend took me to a quiet corner of the house to say goodbye. After sharing some memories and words of appreciation, he marveled at the way God put the plan together for us to move at the last minute.* I told him that the Ohio home would be our fourth in twenty years. "Will you stay there permanently?" he asked. "I don't know" I replied. We'll see what the Lord has and where He wants us to be." "I couldn't do that", he said. "I need my creature comforts, but for you guys this is a the way you live." He seemed shaken, maybe challenged; perhaps a bit scared that some of our willingness to respond to Abrahamic calls (get up and go the the place I will show you) might rub off.

But don't think it's all grand and glorious, and don't think we're lauding ourselves. The way I've done this leaves much to be desired. With hindsight there are some things I'd do differently. I'd fret less, grieve "losses" with better understanding that if God takes something away that He is freeing my hands for something better, and somehow be better for my loved ones by isolating less and not being so grouchy.

And there are numerous costs to living one's calling. One clear cost to us has been financial. We have nowhere the financial stability and security that we once had, BUT, our needs are met in an exceeding abundant way. We haven't missed a house payment or a meal. Just this morning I reminded myself to live one day at a time (thank you, Jesus), for God has promised to provide our needs. I don't have to see how He is going to do that, nor does He need me to instruct Him in "strategy prayers" (the kind where I tell Him how to do things). He wants me to live loved in relationship with Him, fully trusting Him to do what He says He is going to do. I want to believe...please help my unbelief!

Well, the sun is up and it's time to take Carly and Gabby to Wilson College. How do I feel about that? Glad, sad...you get it; the myriad of emotions that come with loss and change.

Thanks for reading, and thanks for befriending us on the journey (and allowing us to befriend you).

with love and blessings, Jeff

*On the morning of July 29 Jill and I surrendered our desire and plan to move back to Ohio. "If we don't have a signed contract to rent out our home in MD by August 21, then we aren't moving." Later that afternoon a Christian couple with two young children joyfully toured our abode. By that evening we'd agreed by phone to proceed with a two-year lease. The following week we signed to rent a remarkable home in Springfield.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Absolute Surrender...the key to lasting peace

Today began peacefully, but now I'm stressed and brokenhearted. Uncertainty about the fruition of hope for future provisions for our own family and the restoration of a couple's marriage; these are the sources of my distress. But, I know the anti-dote, and I've already begun to apply it...absolute surrender to the plans and purposes of God.

They say with age comes wisdom...at least the possibility of wisdom through learning. What I continue to learn is that I have very little control. My attitude is ultimately all I can control, but even that isn't said accurately. Actually, surrender of my attitude, perspective, desires, etc. and ongoing humble requests for Jesus to help me (to carry the load, to point the way, to apply the balm of his peace to my hurting heart) is all that I can do.

Time after time, God provides opportunities for me to open my hands to hand back to Him that which I want to count on...(i.e. procurement of a nice home for my family, "successful healing" of a crisis marriage), and time after time I get to remember that "neither he who plants or he who waters is anything...but God who makes it grow", and that "man can make his plans, but God orders his steps".

I found myself penning these words this morning in an email. "This is our hope and desire _________________, but if for any reason it doesn't work out, there will be no hard feelings. We will simply accept that God has something different for us." Are those just cliche words with which I attempt to pacify myself, or do I really mean them?

Looking back, I can see the good that He had in mind through many circumstances that didn't make sense at the time. Not that all disappointments of the past now make sense...some don't, but I'm confident that one day they will. For now we see, "through a glass dimly lit".

One of the greatest realities is that none of us know about tomorrow. We can simply embrace today...every moment, conversation, conscious thought and consecrate to His purposes. "Father, your ways our higher than our ways...your thoughts higher than ours". Just as Jesus, I will let you know what I want, and then surrender and submit the results to you. "Father, if there would be any other way but for me to drink this cup...but not my will; thine be done."

If I have nothing else...not the creature comforts I want...not the results of healed and restored marriages and families that I long for...I have Him. And He's enough. For some of us it takes having nothing else, or having hope interminably deferred to get that point. And so I give thanks for the lengths to which He has gone to give me Himself. If He gives more than that it's icing on the cake, not the sustenance I/we actually need. He is the all in all.

And so, it can be well with my soul.

On the daily journey, Jeff

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A Lion Learning to Live Loved

Six more months and we will have been married for twenty-five years!

But just like a soldier still in-country, even though they have a departure date for home; a safe outcome isn't guaranteed.

These were among my thoughts as I watched my wife suffer with pain and fever over the past week. "What's happening? Is she dying? THERE HAS TO BE A SOLUTION!"

I'm a LION, CHOLERIC, DRIVER...An Aggressive Problem-Solver in short. For such as me it is extremely difficult to watch, wait and pray. We want to DO! But waiting on Him and praying is the doing that gets things done in His Kingdom.

Living loved, meaning trust that there is ONE who loves me more than I can imagine, and has my best in mind in all things is a challenge, particularly because I learned to care for myself from an early age; not that I wasn't cared for, but enter divorce into a child's life, and inevitably there is a question about how their needs will be met...add to that either the physical or emotional absence of either parent, and you have the recipe for the child to make the decision that they'd better learn to anticipate needs and get real good at caring for ole' #1, SELF.

While such may be adaptive thinking and behavior under duress, it can cause problems in relationship with God and others later on.

But back to the point. The learning curve for self-willed, determined, aggressive problem-solvers such as I is steep because it is a path fraught with gauntlets divinely placed to exorcise self out of self so that there is room for trust in God; one who cares more for my SELF than myself. Does this make sense?

Here's how this translates in practical terms:

This week I watched my wife begin to become overcome with infection that eventually required emergency hospitalization to provide infusion of strong antibiotics. The Lion in me wanted to take charge to make things better. The loved Lion realized that God loves her even more than I do, and that He was on the job as her Healer, and that I would do best for Jill by cooperating with His plan and timing of intervention for her healing. The bottom line is that this required asking and listening to God as the treatment director rather than simply consulting myself. Where this gets complicated is in Him working through my/our temperaments to effect His will. So, I get an idea of something to do...is that me or Him. Only asking Him and learning to hear and feel His peace tells the difference.

While I definitely believe that He cares about outcome, I also believe that as important and precious to Him is our dependence, reliance and ongoing dialogue.

So, my conclusion for now is that living as a loved lion is to trust, wait on and submit to THE LION of Judah, one who has good for me and and wants to do good through me.

If He exalts me, in ways that most of humanity considers exalted (fortune and fame), I will praise Him, and if He slays me or ordains what most of humanity considers tragic, I will praise Him. I will praise Him in all things, and seek to hear Him, know Him and enjoy Him as I trust that He is working everything together for good. Amen?

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Men Making Friends: Essential Relationships for Living Life Purpose

I learned a lot about friendship the past few years during a painful season of pruning that God designed to build character and shape my/our calling. During this time I was often depressed, disappointed, and confused. I had little to give others in friendship, but seven men in particular gave to me anyhow. They invested huge quantities of time to listen and to encourage my hurting and confused heart. They didn’t judge, they always affirmed my value and character, and spoke of hope for a better future without using cliche. I can’t imagine surviving the season without them. Now it’s incumbent on me to give what I received (II Corinthians 1).

Male friendship seems to be rare, yet when it’s done well the participants describe it as priceless. Why is it rare? What makes it priceless, and how can a guy develop such relationships? First let’s consider why fewer than 10% of men report having a close male friend.

Individualism and the Anti-dote

I think intentionally dependent male friendship is rare among American men because we have been conditioned by the philosophy of rugged individualism ; the belief system that success is a function of self-reliance. As westerners we laud and admire self-made and self-reliant men, but in reality such independence isn’t Biblical. Rather, the members of the Body of Christ are designed and positioned to serve and support each other, according to the gifts they’ve been given,

I Peter 4:8-10
, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms”(NIV, emphasis mine).

Life-saving Friendships

The value of sacrificial friendship becomes apparent when a man is down and out; when he is feeling defeated, hopeless, and doubtful about his worth and purpose in life. Scripture points out that a man alone in such circumstance is to be pitied,

Ecclesiastes 4:10, “If one falls down, his friend can help him up. But pity the man who falls and has no one to help him up!” (NIV).

The men who made time to befriend me were a lifeline. Their friendship preserved my life, marriage and ministry. While I’ve named seven in particular, many more reached out at just the right time to speak a word of hope, affirmation and encouragement to persevere (these seven stand out because they were especially non-judgmental and refrained from unsolicited advice-giving).

Perhaps your life circumstances aren’t desperate, at the moment. But they might be at some point. Will you have friendships in place to help you up when your life gets tough? That will probably depend on whether or not you make a proactive investment to ask for friends, and to be a friend. The time is now.

Friends are Friends Forever
In the early 1990’s Tim Schofield took a risk by telling me that he needed a man like me to be a regular part of his life. “I need you in my life. If the feeling is mutual, I wonder if you would be willing to make our friendship a priority by dedicating time to really know each other and to help each other to grow and mature in relationship with God, our wives, children, etc.?” I accepted the invitation and enjoyed a deep 10 year friendship. While we’ve released each other to invest in other relationships per a geographical separation that precludes regular face to face contact, we remain “go to” friends who could unapologetically call each other at 3am if needed.

How Any Man Can Grow a Great Friendship

Worthwhile things in life usually require sacrifice and risk. Tim led me into an invaluable friendship by doing both. Expect to sacrifice and invest if you want a circle of great friendships.

1. Identify a guy (or two or three) that you respect

2. Identify the qualities that you respect.

3. Risk telling him/them that you need guys like him in your life.

4. Tell him/them that you are willing to invest time and effort in friendship.

5. Give what you would like to receive, for example:
a. Time
b. Transparency
c. Confidentiality

5. Define what friendship done well will look like, for instance:
a. Time spent in conversation about relationship with God, wife, children
b. Setting and sharing goals and accountability to grow.
c. Sharing and challenge about career and ministry
d. Enjoyment of recreational activities

6. Be proactive.
a. Ask for time together; put it on your calendar.
b. Suggest things to do together, and keep your appointments.
c. Dependability and reliability is huge. Are you known as a man who keeps his word, even when it hurts?

Fulfilling Your Destiny and Finishing Well

The bottom line about essential male friendships is about fulfilling one’s life purpose with integrity over the long haul. Think about the men that have enabled Tiger’s philandering or alleged doping by Lance Armstrong. Were these men friends to marvelously talented athletes and cultural icons? No, true friends would have checked these guys by confronting them about the short-sightedness of their fleshly ambitions and they would have advocated for integrity.

One can never have too many friends; true friends willing to invest time and energy in your life, and open to receiving the same in reciprocal relationship.

Finally, here is an instructive quote from an influential mentor, Jim Duffee, M.D.

I went to find a friend, but there were no friends there,
But when I went to BE a friend there were friends everywhere!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Training Wheels to the Tour De France

As I climbed the next to last hill on my 30 mile ride today I saw a timeless scene that would make anyone smile; a little girl on a shiny bike with tassels, and training wheels, followed slowly uphill by her father on a bike himself. Learning to ride a bike...what a great day!

The young lady's smile told the story. She was joyful, proud and excited. As I rode by I either read her mind, or projected what her bedazzled face was saying, "Wow, look at that guy go!" I was moving rather quickly, attired in bright red, white and black cycling clothing. I spontaneously shouted some words of encouragement, "Way to go! Well done! Hey, that's how I got started!"

I pondered the last statement the rest of the way home. I was completing a loop of thirty miles. She had ridden maybe 30 feet, but she was riding. If she rides a lot, she will increase her stamina, strength and skill; with practice, she will become a more capable bike rider.

The young cyclist could become negative or cynical about riding if she took her comparison with me too far, such as, "He sure can ride a lot better, faster and further than me. I'm not as capable, good or worthy..." Or, she could take inspiration and begin to envision the possibility of riding real fast and real far herself.

Then my thoughts turned to a young man who has been chiding himself for being relatively spiritually immature. "I should be a lot further along. I've wasted time and opportunities, but I want to begin today to follow Christ in every part of my life." Hurray! He's in the game, and it isn't too late. Today is the first day of the rest of his life, and as long as he stays in the saddle and as long as he peddles, he'll become stronger and more able. That's going to make a huge difference for those who love him.

Where are you in the game? Well along or just getting started? Perhaps you've fallen in some way, like falling off a bike. Are you ready to get back up and get on?

Undoubtedly, the young lady I saw today will have tumbles and spills en route to becoming a proficient cyclist. But one thing is sure...if she keeps pedaling, she will undoubtedly become stronger and go further day by day. Perhaps she'll even ride in the Tour De France?

Pedaling forward,


Monday, March 29, 2010

45...and counting...

I turn 45 today. It's sobering. There's no denying that I am middle-aged. Much of the future I looked forward to as a youth has come and gone. I looked forward to going to college, getting married, starting a career and raising children. Each of these goals has been realized, and they are in the past. What now?

The past 5 years have been an unscheduled sabbatical; a season in the wilderness unparalleled and unprecedented in life to this point. But with the advent of Spring 2010, it seems that God has marked a path out of the wilderness; and I'm glad. Perhaps the final third of life is ready to begin?

One day at a time has become a centering theme. "For each day has enough trouble of its own", Jesus said in his Sermon on the Mount. His desire was to help us to live fully in the circumstances before us one day at a time, trusting God who cares for us to provide our needs, and to guide our journey. I love that Jill and I have learned to live like this, even if it's taken a long and arduous route through the wilderness to learn it.

Thanks mom for giving me life. Thank you dad for countless hours together in many activities. I have fond memories of my youth; baseball, golf, travel together...Thank you Dr. Green for rescuing my life from the umbilical cord that tried to choke my life before it began. And thank you to the extended community of believers at First Christian Church who helped to raise me and to shape my core beliefs.

There 1,040 Saturdays between today and my 65th birthday. 1,040 Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays, etc. IF I am blessed with life on earth until then. God knows. How will I invest them for the Kingdom of God...for His people...for you?

Michael W. Smith's lyrics often come to mind when I think about the gift of life and its brevity. "This is our time, this is our dance, live every moment, leave nothing to chance..."

Near or at the end of life it is common to evaluate all that came before. Some die with regret, and some are fulfilled and content. What makes the difference? A lot has to do with intentionality about living one's life purpose. Mine, that I share with Jill as a team of two is, "To inspire and equip as many people as possible to live abundant, hopeful and pleasurable lives of purpose in relationship with God and each other." What will I say yes to (and NO) today that will be consistent with that purpose?

As the sun tries to rise through the rain clouds on my 16,425th day of life, I can't help but share a few books that are providing encouragement to live on purpose:

- Visoneering, Andy Stanley
- A Leader's Life Purpose, Tony Stoltzfus
- Good to Great, Jim Collins
- The Bible, God

What is the meaning of your days? What is your purpose and how fully are you living it? Here's a prayer to encourage you and me.

Dear God, I thank you for the privilege of life. I don't take it for granted. Today is the first day of the rest of my life...for how long? Only you know. Please help me to hear your voice and to see the path on which you would have me to walk. I want to live fully for you and for your purposes, and at the end hear, "Well done, good and faithful servant." In Jesus' Name. Amen.

Filling the unforgiving minute with sixty seconds worth of distance run (Rudyard Kipling, the poem IF),


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Deeper but not as Heavy

Five years living near Washington, D.C. has been expensive. We left the Midwest U.S. with some financial leverage, but we're coming back with baggage. A perfect storm of circumstances have conspired to bury us deeper than we've ever been, BUT IT'S NOT AS HEAVY AS IT USED TO BE...

I celebrated this reality with a friend by phone this morning. Yesterday I prayed that someone would be prompted to reach out to encourage me. This morning at 5:40am a life-long friend now living in Spain "reached out" by the miracle of tele-technology to say, "I care about you and want to know how you're doing." I shared honestly for the next hour, concluding that the darkness is as dark as I've ever seen, and the depth of financial responsibility and need as great as we've ever known, BUT, "It's not as heavy as it used to be."

What a blessing to have learned to live under a heavy weight without being weighed down; for how can a burdened soul live in the fullness of the true reality that he/she is loved as an eternal being who is on a temporary temporal journey that daily affords the wonderful opportunity to tune in to and appreciate the ultimate reality.

Is there a more precious promise than this, Revelation 21:4 - He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

Critics of Christianity have long leveled this charge, "They're so heavenly-minded that they're no earthly good." Truth is that we are called to be stewards of the work and material goods He has given us to manage, but to not become so entangled and encumbered in them that they steal the joy of the ultimate reality of God's ultimate goodness, the gift of salvation and the promise of eternal life. But Lord, how long until the dawn?

I'll conclude with some verses that always provide solace, and motivate reflection about the meaning and purpose(s) that trials and burdens can serve in our souls.

II Corinthians 4:16-18 (NIV) - Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Reluctant Leadership: The Humility to Make it About Something Bigger Than Oneself

The scene is from the movie Gladiator. Suspecting his death in the near future, the emperor of Rome asks his general to accept his appointment as successor to the throne.

‘With my whole heart, I do not want it’. The general answers.

The Emperor responds, ‘It is exactly because you don’t ‘want’ it that it must be you who leads.’

The point? Reluctant leaders are the best kind because they don’t ‘need’ the position or title. It is not fame or power that they want, and since those ambitions are absent they can lead with integrity, as servants, with the good of the organization and its members as their focus vs. their ‘own’ good.

Jim Collins, author of ‘Good to Great’ and other best-sellers on leadership and organizational development, describe this as the difference between Level IV and Level V leaders. Level IV is the larger than life, charismatic person with the unparalleled work ethic, who has pioneered a new venture, but commits the tragic error of failing to plan for succession of their leadership, and prioritizes the promotion of their own name vs. the mission of the organization. Level V leaders represent a synergy of personal humility and extreme ambition and will. Jesus appears to be a Level V leader.

Leadership is sacred but dangerous territory as it can seduce one to forsake their first love (Jesus) because the satisfaction of the work can easily compete with the satisfaction that can only be found in Him. Whenever that happens a leader is wise to step down or step aside.

If on the path of this temporal life I can best serve the purposes for which I was born by leading (as a servant-leader), and/or holding office, then I will serve wholeheartedly. If, however, when there is a person better suited to serve in that capacity, then I will humbly defer and submit to their leadership. Whatever is best for the ministry is what I want. In my mind, this is the ‘self’ subjugated to the good of the many, and the only way to walk in the footsteps of Christ, who came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Hidden Influence

"Hey, you got some press the other day! ____ brought you up at a meeting of leaders, and then sent that thing you wrote to all of them!"

"Really! I had no idea."
Upon further reflection, I'm glad that I didn't. That's not why I wrote that piece; and its not why I write.

The particular blog in question was written out of obedience to prompts in my spirit from His Spirit to put the pen to the page regarding the cost of calling with an encouragement to persevere. I wrote is as much as an exhortation to myself as to others.

Do we do what we do for effect, or do we do it out of obedience because we've been commanded to "Let our lights shine before men that they may see our good deeds and praise our father in Heaven" (Matthew 5:16), AND, perhaps more importantly, do we do our good deeds in secret, trusting that Father will reward us, and therefore not seek, clamor for or become disappointed when no recognition from others is forthcoming?

Motives...why do you do what you do? If other than for His pleasure, His purpose and His Glory may I be effectively corrected by ministrations of His Spirit...the same Holy Spirit that prompts toward good deeds.

I know why ____ didn't share that he was going to share my writing with others. Because that's not the point. It's not the point to draw attention to what we do for God, but rather to God Himself, to His Word and His truth.

Are you ok with hidden influence, or do you need the stage? Another friend confided that he could take or leave the stage, but he is in a season of life that repeatedly calls him to the stage. And so he is willing, time after time, to speak about the reasons for the hope he has, and to exhort large groups of people to work in unity for the greater good. That's what he's excited about...the mission, not himself as a man who gets to be at the center of it.

With a new day before us how will you serve His purposes? Quietly? Will you/I be content to exert influence in His Name, even if it is hidden?

Preparing to live the first day of the rest of my life (as the sun peeks over the horizon!)


Monday, March 1, 2010

Resolve: Commitment to Do What You are Called to Do

He introduced the staff of their ministry like this, "They are Christ-centered leaders who would pay to do their ministries because their passion and resolve to do it is so deep in their hearts."

The fact was that The Nehemiah Foundation, raised money to support these para-church ministries that were caring for widows and orphans and doing other effective forms of practical benevolent outreach to show the love of Christ. The workers did what they did not for money, fame, prestige, or any other lesser God, but for God in the name of Jesus. Why? It was/is what they have been designed and prepared to do. It is their calling; the way they demonstrate the attributes of the Living God and Loving Savior. They love others because they are loved, and their greatest reward is not thanks from those they serve, or appreciation of those who witness their service, but whispers from their Master that He is pleased with them, and that they are doing well.

I didn't get Wally's statement when I first heard it, "These leaders would pay to do what they do." But, I get it now. Do you? They aren't working for a living, but working for God, and trusting Him to provide for them. Such service is as pure as it was for Jesus' first followers: Mark 6:8,9 - These were his instructions: "Take nothing for the journey except a staff—no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra tunic."

Why did Jesus so instruct His disciples, and how might it apply to us?

My opinion is that the magnitude of the mission for which He commissioned them required great faith. He instructed and empowered them to cast out evil spirits and to heal diseases, AND He commanded them to go into all the world to make disciples. On a daily basis their faith would be tested as they faced the 'impossible'. And on a daily basis He made sure that they would be exercising their faith muscles for daily provisions of a place to stay, food to eat, and even clothing.

How to ministries develop?
Do they begin, and are they sustained by a good business plan that counts and covers all the costs, or are they birthed out of the resolve of Christ-followers that are compelled to do something specific because it is what they are called to do, no matter what?

My opinion is that religious programs are built, disseminated, and sustained by a solid base of funding, but that ministries which are birthed and sustained by the resolve and faith of those that would pay (and do pay) to do what they do better embody and reflect the heart of Jesus and his first followers.

The passage that got me thinking about this today was Mark 10:29-31. Perhaps it was these words of Jesus that inspired the hymn, "I Surrender All"

Jesus said, "Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They'll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first."

It is often said that the way of the Cross is a path marked by suffering. Did you catch in the verses above that not just blessings, but troubles would be multiplied? GREAT! sigh....well, at least He warned us.

So let's get this straight...suffering, sacrifice, faith for provisions, and a commission to do the miraculous in His name and by His power. Hmmm...this sounds...wonderful, scary, painful, marvelous.

We can be unclear about what we have been called to do or we can know and not be willing to pay the price? Which one better describes you?

Yesterday I followed a thread of conversation on facebook of called ones commiserating about the anguish of the adventure, and encouraging each other to persist. That's the bottom line of why I am writing this to you. Persist dear brother and dear sister. Persist in the face of adversity, challenge and the unknown. Do what you have been prepared and appointed to do. Renew your resolve this morning to walk in faith, to trust for provisions, and to embody the grace, truth, hope and love that you have been shaped and prepared to share with the world; one person and one appointment at a time.

Doing the journey, one day at a time!


Friday, February 26, 2010

A Key to Living Loving: Die and Then Die Some More

Like a runner who collapses one step past the finish line, I collapse when I cross the threshold of our home after traveling out of town for several days. It's time to exhale, to rest, and to be served...or so I sometimes think, and that's where the problems begin.

"What do I want? What do I need" I think to myself as I anticipate arriving home.
- hugs and affection
- a good meal
- an opportunity to share my feelings and reflections from the journey
- or maybe some solitude because I'm an introvert who needs alone time after periods of people-time

Not unreasonable, right? So what's the problem? Well, I'm not the only one with needs. Jill too (and the girls) are usually waiting to talk and to do some things on their minds. So...who goes first?

We're learning that when we are running on fumes, meaning that we are physically, emotionally and relationally spent, that we are both apt to want to go first. And that's a lot like trying to walk through the same doorway at the same time. It doesn't work very well. But what does work is taking turns. You go first, and I'll wait my turn. Die to self so that relationship might live.

Dying to self. Not just impatiently waiting for my turn, but truly dying. "If this need is never met by a human being it's ok, because I have you Lord. I can talk to you, find solace in you, and I know that you understand...you were a man of sorrows, acquainted with grief, and in you I have a friend who sticks closer than a brother."

Now, the cool thing relationally is that when I die to demanding that my needs get met, then I am free to live loving by focusing on ways I can serve and meet others needs; and when they offer to give something to me I am free in my spirit to graciously receive what they offer as icing on the cake instead of obligatory (and possibly begrudging) fulfillment of my demand. Is this making sense?

For example: When I arrive home from a trip, weary or enthused (it varies by the nature of the day; whether it's been full of ministry vs. quiet reflection, and how the travel went) I can assert for my needs (rest or conversation, affection or solitude) OR I can decide to ask and discern how I can serve the needs of my family (hugs, conversation about events, tasks/chores, etc.). The latter is what I am equating to dying; dying to self (my desires) that others and my relationship with them might live.

To love is to sacrifice and to pay a price. Dying to self makes room for others needs to be met. When I live loved ("He loves me") I can more easily die to self and live more loving in relationship with others. What do you think? On a scale of 1-10 how loving do you live, and how is that related to your willingness to die?

Learning to live loved and to live loving,


Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Engaging Relationships: How to Handle Offenses and Hurts

What do you do when someone tells you something about someone else?

I had an experience recently that led me to ask myself this question. "How do I handle a conversation when someone complains to me about someone else; when they tell me that they have a concern, or that they have been offended, or when they denigrate or demean someone?"

We (Jill and I) were once part of a community of believers that had a covenant between us about how to conduct relationships. We were very intentional about how we handled situations like I described above. These were the guidelines:

1. We committed to not participate in a conversations where the topic became about someone that wasn't present.

2. We agreed to encourage the person with a concern about someone to approach the other person directly.

3. We promised to approach the person in question after 24 hours to ask them if the person with concern had spoken to them

The upshot of this was responsibility in relationships consistent with Jesus teaching in Matthew 18:15. Direct communication and direct confrontation.

"If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you..."

Admittedly, this full passage is directed at those that have sinned and offended, but it seems to be good practice for lesser concerns.

How do you think Jesus handled his disciples concerns about each other? Can you imagine the circumstance of one coming to him to complain about another? And how do you think he responded? My guess is that he re-directed them to the person with whom they had a concern, and that this was part of their training in relationships; to be direct with each other.

When a friend comes with the gift of feedback, I appreciate their courage and benefit from their perspective. It's easier to hear when they combine affirmation with concern. "I appreciate your heart and passion. And, because I believe in you and what you're about, I have some feedback about how you affected me and how I perceived you when _______." Such conversations help me to see myself and to grow.

However, if the same person comes as a messenger for someone else, all sorts of bad things happen. "Hey, a couple people have mentioned to me that they were offended when _______." OR "Someone you know well approached me but they're probably not going to talk to you, so I'm going to tell you that _______." Yuk. I really don't like this. Do you?

Why did the messenger listen to the complaint instead of re-directing the complainant?

How does it enable the complainant to remain immature in relationship?

What do I/you miss in terms of opportunity for a potent relationship because someone that supposedly cares about us offered feedback third-hand?

Unfortunately, to my observation, this manner of conducting relationships is common, and direct communication is uncommon. It is unpopular to do otherwise.

Here's my commitment going forward:

1. The moment someone complains to me about someone else (or tells me about how they've been offended, etc.) I'm going to ask them to stop. "My personal policy based on Matthew 18 is to not listen to gossip or slander about others."

2. I will urge the complainant to speak directly with the person they'd begun to talk about.

3. I will not complain about anyone or give a bad report to anyone about others. If I have a concern about something that has happened between me and someone else, I'll go to them myself or keep my mouth shut.

Will this mode of operation in relationships make me popular? Probably not. No one likes to be cut-off or somehow "corrected" about what they share with us. But, I'll have a clear conscience about doing my part to increase the potency and health of relationships, and I hope that I will increase my reputation for being positive and trustworthy in conversation.

Finally, there's another ramification to ceasing talk about others. We'll be free to talk about other things! Like what? Ideas, visions, projects to help others, to build the Kingdom of God.

Mama taught me when I was young that small people talk about people, bigger people talk about things, and the biggest people talk about ideas to help others and to change the world. In the context of having limited days of life to live, that's what I want to spend my time doing; changing the world in the ways God gifted me to do it. And if He prompts me to be part of helping another person to change themselves, I'll do it directly.

Learning and growing, Jeff

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

The HOLY ONE is Wholly Other

Me and Jesus are nothing alike. He is Holy. I am NOT!

Sin abides in me. My very nature is to sin; NOT to refrain from it.

The Apostle Paul, one who was saved by grace (unmerited favor), testified to the abominable nature that resided within him, "It is not I who live, but Christ who lives in me..." and, "It is by grace that you are saved, not by works, so that no one can boast."

When he was confronted on the Road to Damascus, Paul (Saul) braced for deadly blows, that he deserved. But NO! Jesus graciously declared him His chosen one to proclaim the Good News that He (Messiah) had come, and to make this know to ALL men...even those that were beyond God's chosen people (the Jews). And still He chooses unworthy servants, such as you and me.

Paul was among the least likely to be conscripted to build Christ's Body, His Church. To date he'd led the charge to literally exterminate Jesus' heretical followers. But his confrontation with Christ on the road to Damascus left no questions about who was Lord and who was a servant.

Paul had a lot to live down; years of heinous acts against the One he'd been chosen to serve. And so it is for you and I...we have despicable resumes; don't we? At least in our minds and hearts if not in actuality (see the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5-8).

Consider the ways that you have been an enemy of the Cross; in deeds observable by others, and the attitudes of your heart. Be honest. If you considerable yourself good, you are deluded. Only He is good... and we are good only in so much as we surrender to His life within us.

My heart is not good. It is despicable, sinful, self-serving, unfaithful, etc. My only good, and my only hope is surrender to His life within.

Jesus, live in me. Be my every breath, my every thought, my every act. You are good. I am not. My only good is to embody and incarnate You; and for that, You deserve the credit and the glory, not me.

gratefully following, Jeff

*check out Mark Schultz's recording of "Holy One". I am deeply touched that He is so GOOD and so wholly other than me when I consider Him ways through this song. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fkMg6vxWMJI

Saturday, January 16, 2010

The Attitude of Gratitude or "Physician Heal Thyself"

Recently I confided to a new friend that over the past few years I'd struggled with depression. "Give anyone enough disappointments, discouragements and disillusions and you can create depression" I said. "So, you're a counselor", he said, "What did you do?" "I struggled" I said. "But, I'm glad I did. I've learned a lot, and I'm much more compassionate with others when they struggle."

"In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (Jesus in John 16:33)

We are going to have trouble in this world. Life outside the Garden of Eden is difficult. Scott Peck said it well, "Life is difficult, but once you accept that life is no longer as difficult because you stop expecting what it is not likely to give you."(1)

"Ok, so you can quote hopeful and helpful things" my friend said. "What did you do?" "Well" I replied, "It's what I'm still doing. Taking control of my thoughts and making a conscious decision to change what I think about and how I think about things." The classic glass half-full vs. glass half-empty illustration comes to mind.

Disappointments and uncertainty continue, but they are on balance with blessings. Sole focus on the negative easily gives rise to anxiety and can plummet me into depression. So, what's the alternative? The choice to count blessings and live with an attitude of gratitude. Pollyanna(2) got this one right, and so has been immortalized as the founder of the infamous Glad Game.

Pollyanna was an orphaned child of missionary parents who lived with unreasonable and illogical optimism. When faced with adversity she played "The Glad Game". "There's always something to be glad about", she would say.

Indeed, the infectious little optimist was a forerunner of well-researched cognitive-behavioral therapy, the world's best and most effective non-medical treatment for anxiety and depression. In summation, it's primary postulate is "What you think about and how you think about it has everything to do with how you feel."

In fact, the Apostle Paul came before Pollyanna, "Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things" (Philippians 4:8).

One of the teachings of Jesus that I currently appreciate the most is to live one day at a time. The future doesn't have to be lived today, and the reality is that today is all that I can do something about. When reduced even further, I can't control today, but I can control my response to the event's of the day. I can choose what to think about and how to think about things.

I'm glad:
- that I have a relationship with Jesus
- that God has provided instruction about how to live
- that my family loves me
- that I have control of my attitude
- that....

What are you glad about? (Pollyanna)

On the journey,


1. The Road Less Traveled
2. 1913 novel by Eleanor H. Porter.

Monday, January 4, 2010

The Challenge and Blessing of Flux

We've made plans for 2010 to support our family and ministry. We're enjoying the excitement of fresh strategy, and we're even receiving some support for it (verbal and financial). It seems that God is giving favor to a two-pronged strategy of tent-making for support and ministry development.

Here are the objectives we have in mind (see below for what God is doing):

1. Support our family, and live on support as marriage missionaries
2. To commute (Jeff) between home in Maryland and Ohio
3. To provide direct service in counseling, marriage/life/leadership coaching
4. To strategically multiply the ministry of marriage coaching

BUT, much is in flux...or at least we think it is. God knows.

Yesterday a friend accompanied me to look at a potential office setting in Ohio. A decorative rock in the garden had this inscription, "Be patient, you are gaining wisdom". We saw it at the same time, "Is that a sign (message from God)?" he asked. It does resonate with my spirit and what I think I'm hearing from The Holy Spirit.

Waiting has never been one of my virtues. The narrative on my temperament assessment says, "Even state of the art electronic communication probably doesn't move fast enough for you." True. arrrgggghhhh....and so I've prayed to learn patience. Guess what that means? :)

But the blessing of flux and waiting is similar to the recently popular fitness program, P-90X, which is all about muscle confusion. It reportedly expedites fitness by disallowing adaptation, the body's response to being repeatedly stressed in the same way. In other words, we grow stronger faster when the demands placed on us are frequently altered.

And so, I'm sensing that this is still God's plan for me/us (Jill) as servants intent on following Him wherever He leads to do whatever He says. Jill confirmed this in a bedtime call last night (I am in Ohio and she is in Maryland). "I'm still up for the 'Whatever' Dance", she said. Cool. (The whatever dance is our way of thinking about the moment by moment choreography of our lives according to the guidance of the Holy Spirit).

About 10 days ago this thought struck me, (thank you Holy Spirit), "I know what we want a private counseling and coaching practice to be (a cash cow to support our family), but what do you want it to be, Lord?" Now there's a thought...ask God what He wants instead of making our own plans and asking Him to bless it.

So, we're watching, we're waiting, and we're asking, one moment at a time, and dancing the dance steps in which He leads us...and it's good.

As I read this morning in "The Good and Beautiful God", by James Bryan Smith, I realized afresh that God's greatest desire is not the success of our plans, but conforming us to the image of His Son, giving us the opportunity to wholeheartedly follow as His disciples.

Over the past two weeks, God has used the "muscle confusion" of travel, different beds, different routines, exploration of ways to execute our "plan" for 2010 and now temporary separation from my family to challenge my faith muscles.

While with some fellow believers to worship and fellowship yesterday I heard these whispers in regard to my questions about what to do w/ respect to "the plan",

- show up (meaning, show up in the midwest as you've planned), and
- be available for divine appointments

And so, while in flux, I'm at peace. Learning contentment in all circumstances is good, eh? I guess God has his own version of P-90X, and it's good. And sometimes, even if it doesn't feel good, it does us good.

On the journey,