Posts Tagged ‘Relationship’

Receiving Grace, Giving Grace

August 16, 2016

It was the end of a group meeting. It’s where we pray for each other and go home.

The study for the day was the part of Ephesian 4 where Paul is describing Christian life. About speaking the truth in gentleness and love. About focusing on others.

Then out of nowhere someone erupts in anger, “The church is going to hell. It accepts homosexuals.”

I thought, “Huh? Where did that come from?”

Well, it came from the depths of the things he dwells his thoughts in. He’d never admit hatred, but the tone of his voice betrayed him.

It was a shocking end to a study of grace.

It just shows the distance between your head and your heart. You can “learn” things but it may not change your heart.

I was affected by John Fischer’s latest Catch newsletter:

Grace doesn’t just stop with my receiving it; it goes on in the way I give it out. The way we are treated will affect the way we treat others.

This is an important part of receiving from God; it changes us. You can’t receive God’s grace without giving it out to others. You can’t receive what you don’t deserve and then go out and make everyone else pay.

I know it’s hard to live a life full of grace. And it’s hard to offer grace to other people. And I know that anger is an honest emotion. But anger also often betrays the condition of our heart. It reveals insecurities, prejudices, ignorance.

Those are the moments when I am grieved. What hope is there when people who receive grace refuse to give it on to someone else.

And, wow, our society could use a big dose of grace right now! From everyone.

Forgive The Other Person First

July 25, 2016

My wife had a question. She received a devotional email. It quoted C.S. Lewis. “We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us.” It is strongly worded that way in the Lord’s Prayer, said Lewis.

We believe that God forgives us our sins; but also that He will not do so unless we forgive other people their sins against us.

In the first place, she was raised a Baptist. They taught you didn’t memorize prayers. You “prayed from the heart.” So, remembering all the Lord’s Prayer isn’t necessarily easy for her.

My thought was that Lewis was denying the forgiveness of sins that comes along with salvation. That didn’t sound like Lewis.

We decided that Lewis wasn’t talking about that. But he was talking on a practical, day-to-day level about our interaction with other people.

And forgive our debts as we forgive our debtors.

We looked at the phrase. I said, first off this is a petition. Jesus is telling us we can petition God to forgive all the things we have done wrong.

But, said  Jesus, first we have already forgiven our debtors. Look at the order of the words. We ask God to forgive us in the same manner in which we have already forgiven those who have wronged us.

Do we forget that part of the equation? Do we just jump in and ask for forgiveness without considering the other part? Is it all about us?

Actually, do we really ask for forgiveness at all?

Psychologists would call this emotional maturity. God would point to spiritual growth.

Listening Builds Trust

June 21, 2016

Whoever answers before listening is both foolish and shameful. –Solomon, Proverbs 18

Have you ever been in a group when someone has something important to share, but the leader cuts her off and moves on? It could be business where a great idea for moving the company forward was just lost. Or maybe a small group of friends where someone was hurting or puzzled and now will not get solace or an answer.

Sometimes you are in a situation where the speaker is so full of himself or herself that listening is not required. Probably happens way too often.

But perhaps you are in a situation where you ask for help from someone who has been there before and has developed wisdom. And you don’t listen. You actually want to tell them.

“I will rarely invest [time or money] in or with someone who doesn’t listen.” Henry Cloud

Listening is not an “ear” thing; listening is a “heart” thing.

Your ears pick up sounds. Your brain translates the sounds. But your heart ponders and digest and relates. Listening with only your brain only generates responses with what is on your mind. Listening with the heart is relationship. It shows caring, trust, empathy.

So many people seem to hear only for words they can agree or disagree with. Then they pounce like a cat on a mouse.

Listening with the heart takes time. Therefore it builds a relationship with the other.

I work mornings in a coffee shop. If I’m home, it’s High Grounds. If I’m on the road, it’s a local shop if I can find one or it’s a chain. I don’t make coffee, I read and write. I observe–always an observer. Friends come to have a coffee and a conversation. You can tell the extent of the relationship by the energy and body language.

Some appear somewhat distant. Others make eye contact. The lean slightly forward. They affirm they are listening. You can tell. I’m sure the other person can tell (unless they are so narcissistic that they don’t need reassurance, but that’s another post).

On the foundation of such heart listening are trusting relationships built. As Henry Cloud described in The Power of the Other, the qualities that lead to great performance are enhanced by great relationships. You help each other on many levels just by beginning with listening with the heart.

Don’t Abdicate Responsibility For Decisions

June 17, 2016

Have you ever been part of a leadership team trying to achieve a reasonable consensus on a decision and have someone (or several) pass on contributing to the decision?

I’ve observed a phenomenon over many years of professional and personal life where someone who has the chance to contribute to a decision abdicate the throne and let others decide.

In this way, they also avoid responsibility for the outcome. Usually it means they also avoid responsibility for doing the work–one way or another.

There is another side to the dynamic. After the decision is made, these same people delight in continual criticism of the decision. I’ve seen it so often. In families, in committees, in churches, in business.

When I was younger and early in my career, I’d listen to these complainers thinking maybe they had some insight. But it didn’t take me long to discover that this was actually a strategy for avoiding decision-making, contributing to the effort, and responsibility.

It is as if they are trying to stay out of the way in case the decision was wrong. Yet, they’ll try to take some of the praise if things go well.

These people are to be avoided. Well, if you married one, then you’re probably stuck with constant criticism I guess. It’s a personality type. If they are on a committee or department or team you lead, try to marginalize them or even move them on to somewhere else.

Frank and bold discussion about decisions is to be welcomed. Snide comments and grumbling after the fact undermines leadership and the team. It is to be removed.

If you are a self-aware person, then recognize when you start to become one of those grumblers. Stop it and stay  quiet. Resolve to be part of the solution the next time.

When You Stop Trying So Hard

May 27, 2016

“Stop trying, relax, and just slip into the pose.”

There are Yoga poses that just don’t work well when you try to force your way into them. Then you just relax, especially your abs, and just ease into the pose.

Try this. No, really, try it. Stand up. Keeping your back as straight as possible, bend over and touch your toes (or shins, or knees, or thighs…).

Now back at the standing position, relax your mid-section. Consciously. Maybe think about bringing your belly button back to your spine. Now try it. Don’t force it. Just bend.

(Honestly, all this came to me last night when I was talking the class into one of those forward bend poses that seem to stretch everything.)

I’ve been spending a lot of time with Matthew 5, 6, 7. This includes the Sermon on the Mount. Remember how Jesus concludes? “Be perfect just as your Father is perfect.”

Now, think about the group of people Jesus continually sparred with–the Pharisees. How did they try to be “perfect just as your Father is perfect”? They tried…hard. They built rules on top of rules to explain how to live in every situation in every minute of every day. It was a full-time job just working hard to be perfect.

Then Jesus comes along. He reinterprets all the laws making them impossible to achieve. Then he says, be perfect. Hold on there, partner. Perfect? Impossible!

Yes, that’s the point. You don’t get to a relationship with God by your hard work at being perfect. Stop trying so hard. Relax. Then turn your attention to God and let God do the work.

Like Yogi Berra supposedly said, “You can hear a lot just by listening.” Just by slowing down and ceasing the impossible task of trying to be perfect, we open a space for God to actually come in. And, since our focus is off ourselves, now we can hear God. And respond.

And we’ll be perfect enough.

Jesus Turned Everything Upside Down

April 11, 2016

Matthew had an interesting outline for how he wanted to present his friend Jesus to the world. He introduces Jesus and the scene. Then he skips to Jesus baptism and what we call temptation (actually a period of spiritual formation followed by facing temptations which always happen to us after a deep spiritual experience and we’re strong enough to deal with them).

Then he consolidates the core of Jesus’ teaching. Chapters 5-7. I have now decided to reread these annually along with my annual reading of the book of Proverbs.

If you can clear your mind, throw away footnoted, transport yourself back to the scene in your imagination, then read the teaching, perhaps the message will sink in.

Many of us need time to let things sink in and become part of our awareness.

Looking at the “blessed” statements with eyes open to the world of the Romans, you see how Jesus turned it all upside down. Instead of the powerful being blessed, it is the opposite.

Then Jesus proceeds to raise the bar on following the law. It was already hard for people,  especially common, ordinary working people, to follow every bit of the law. Then Jesus says, you have heard it said, but I say… He made it impossible.

Then you think about it. If you think you can follow the law to become right with God, you have set an impossible task. However, if you have the right relationship with God and people, then you will in fact be following the law. It’s all upside down–God’s way and our way.

So it’s sort of weird, our spiritual practices. They should help us maintain a right relationship with God and at the same time help us focus on being right with other people.

We don’t study just to be knowledgeable. That is useless. We study so that we know how to relate to others and how to help point them to a relationship. We also study (people have said in surveys) to achieve and maintain our own right relationship with God.

Same with prayer. Same with worship. Same with fasting.

Spiritual is not just what’s inside you. Spiritual is also how you manifest that which is inside to other people. Are you helpful or a hindrance? Generous or selfish? Thinking of others or all about you?

Searching for the Authentic and Transparent

February 18, 2016

A couple of Christian musicians were discussing, well, music. One is a professor at a university. He remarked during the conversation that the young people going through university lately enjoy the music of the 70s. They hear songs about authentic relationships and transparent emotions.

I recently discovered the channel called The Bridge on Sirius XM. It plays the 70s folk rock and jazz-type pop music (Billy Joel, Elton John, etc.). I know–you’re aghast that I don’t listen exclusively to Christian music. Well, sorry.

Now, I lived through that era. I used to get my guitar out and sing those songs. But I’d forgotten. When you live through it, you don’t have the context of time. Now I listen, especially after another 4.5 hour drive to Chicago like I did yesterday. The music professor was right. There’s no “let’s jump into bed right away” lyrics. Or lyrics about angst and rebellion. It’s authenticity, transparency, relationship. It’s about real life.

I’ve heard the same thing about worship. “Contemporary praise” music became shallow. Repeat the same words over and over and simulate emotion by waving your hands like at a rock concert (except no lighters or later mobile phone lights). That’s when I quit trying to get the old, battered guitar out and sing praise songs. As Yogi Berra would have said, “There’s no there there.”

Young people, Millennials, are said to be seeking a more transparent, authentic experience in worship and in Christian life than their predecessors. Or, maybe we’ve always been seeking it and the fads of worship leaders took us down a different path.

Are the Christian leaders on the platform authentic and transparent? Or is it just show? I don’t mind guitars and drums. Or organ music. I can enjoy each. Or folk music.

But I feel like the millennials–I crave authentic speakers, leaders, relationships. There are too many glib speakers out there. I find ones who are real to listen to. And authentic service.

I like to say that I’m a Millennial in an aging Boomer body. I doubt that I’m unique. If you’re young, I hope you find your place. For us older people–what are we doing to share the authentic Christian life with that new generation?

Get real!

How We See Others

January 15, 2016

As a leader, how do you see your group? Not as a group, but as individuals.

Do you see them as hard working, dedicated, intelligent people? Or as lazy, slothful, needing constant supervision people?

I had a job once where I could get more done working from home than coming to the office. My boss said, “Well, as long as you’re working.” I thought, “Sheesh, no one puts out more work than I do, and he makes that comment.”

This phrase just popped up in my reading, “Your perception of me is a reflection of you.”

If you are looking at the team you are leading as a bunch of people you can’t trust to do their work. Maybe the problem really is you. Maybe you know that you’d like to slack off and are suspicious of others who might.

There was a story about a man traveling the back roads of the Midwest in the early 20th Century. He came across a farmer. He stopped and asked, “What sort of people live around here?”

“Well, what sort of people lived where you are from?”

“They were a lying, thieving bunch of people.”

“Well, I guess you’ll find people here about the same.”

A second traveler came by later and stopped. Asked the same question. The farmer asked what sort of people there were where he was from. “Honest, hardworking, trustworthy people,” came the response.

“Well, I guess you’ll find the people around here to be about the same.”

It is a great story pointing out that our perceptions are often colored by our emotions, thoughts, and opinions. We see what we want to see.

When I’ve dealt with people as a leader, whether as a parent or manager, I always just have this expectation, usually unstated but clear by insinuation, that people will live up to being what they were meant to be. I expect the best for other people.

When you deal with others, how do you view them? If the results are not forthcoming, perhaps a good look in a mirror is in order. Change your attitude toward others and watch how their attitude changes.

Great Leaders Have Great Interpersonal Skills

January 8, 2016

We were at a dinner. It was a special dinner with several courses each paired with a wine. The idea was to teach a little about wine and also sell the wines, of course.

It was a group experience. Most of us came as couples, not as a large group. We entered the room to discover it was set up with several long tables. We were going to share a table with six people whom we did not know.

The man adjacent to my wife was an owner of a local company. He was personable. Asked a lot of questions of my wife and the other people. Seemed genuinely interested in the other people’s lives.

My wife has been to many business dinners with me by now and has met many business owners or ranking executives. She comes from a working class background, so it was initially all new to her.

After the dinner on the drive home, she said, “Men like him are always interested in other people. They make others feel at ease. They are interested in others.”

An astute observation.

Recently while reading on leadership, I ran across this observation, “Great leaders have great interpersonal skills. They care for their people. As a leader, you need to know how to listen quietly and hear what people are really saying, by asking questions and being open to the truth. When challenges come, it’s especially important to open up and show you care.”

I’m watching a friend start a new business. He really cares about all the people he has hired for the team. He guides those who need a little help. He encourages each one. It’s a joy to watch.

No matter where you are called to be a leader, this is a great role model. Leadership isn’t all about me. It’s really all about them. How can I help them? How can I nurture them? How much do I care?


Become A New Creation

December 31, 2015

Decide first for the year not what you will do but who you will be.

I was led to study 2 Corinthians 5 this morning. While reading and contemplating, this phrase popped, “if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation.”

Devoting ourselves to spiritual practices, or disciplines, is simply a means of working on the maturity of that creation.

I may be a new creation, but there seems to be continual work on becoming the sort of person that I should be. I don’t think Paul thought we stopped at becoming the new creation or he wouldn’t have written the last few chapters of Romans. It’s on how you live.

The Bible as a whole is not a text book of science, or of philosophy, or of theology, or of history. The Bible is a manual. It is our guide on how to live, how to relate to God, how to relate to others, how to become the sort of person pleasing to God.

We get off the track when we get into petty arguments. We are on track when we ask at the end of one year and the beginning of the next:

What kind of person was I last year? What kind of person will I be next year?

Generous? Joy filled? Sober? Filled with gratitude? Peaceable? Helpful?

Or the opposite.

You can make your daily decisions about how to act in the situation by firmly being aware of what kind of person you wish to be.

Choose wisely!