The Cross and Emotion: How to Manage Our Emotions During COVID-19

There is a lot in our world right now that just isn’t right. We are living in a time of great loss. Loss of freedom to move about, loss of job or loss of how I do my job, disease and sickness and the possibility of disease on a personal level, and ultimately death. Daily we are bombarded by numbers related to those infected with COVID-19 and those who have died because of it. This causes all kinds of emotion from anxiety and fear to anger and frustration. There are times when we just want to cry out to God about the unfairness of it all. Yet in the middle of all of this we remember the most important death in history which was followed by the most important event in history, the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

There is a tendency for us to view the story of the cross from a distance. We can read about it and intellectually know what happened, but many times we lack the true experience of what it must have been like for Jesus to go through what he did. How did he process it all? How did he not just want to run and hide instead of going through all he knew would be before him? Then we might think, well he was God therefore he would have a different experience than you and I would. But the reality is that Jesus, the son of God, had all the range of emotions you and I have. Even the one’s we are experiencing now as we face our own struggles with this global pandemic. When we realize that God himself is an emotional being, we realize that emotions are ok and natural and a part of who we are as beings created in His image. In fact, Jesus was very emotional up to his ultimate sacrifice and spent time working through those emotions.

We are told the night before he was betrayed and taken prisoner, he went up to the garden of Gethsemane to pray. He took his closest disciples with him, Peter, James and John. The scriptures say in Matthew 26:37–38 (NLT),
“…he became anguished and distressed. He told them, “My soul is crushed with grief to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.” Jesus was feeling the weight of what he had to do. He was feeling grief. He was feeling distressed and crushed. He was flooded with emotion over what he knew he was being asked to do.

He came back to his friends only to find them asleep. He tells his friends in Matthew 26:40,
“...Couldn’t you watch with me even one hour?” Here Jesus was looking for support and his friends couldn’t even stay awake for him when he needed them most. I can imagine he must have felt abandoned and alone in all he was going through. He expressed his frustration with their inability to be there for him in his final hour before he would go through his journey to the cross. He was anticipating the pain and did not receive any comfort from his friends.

Where Jesus did find comfort was through his Father in heaven. The scriptures tell us in Mark 14:35–36 (NLT),
"He prayed that, if it were possible, the awful hour awaiting him might pass him by. “Abba, Father,” he cried out, “everything is possible for you. Please take this cup of suffering away from me. Yet I want your will to be done, not mine.” He went to his Father for comfort and cried out to him with his feelings of fear and his desires even though they were contrary to the mission God had sent him to earth to do. But in that expression of his emotions Jesus found the comfort and strength to face the task before him. He wasn’t looking to solve the emotions he had, he was looking for comfort for them.

You and I experience emotion all the time but we have a tendency to either dismiss our emotion and never address it or we look for ways to solve the emotion we have which usually ends up making our emotional state more intense. As we go through this pandemic together and remember what Christ did for us on the cross it is important that we understand how to handle the emotion we have as Christ handled his own emotion in his own time of pain.

Emotions Are Designed to Be Soothed Not Solved
Our emotions were not designed by God to be solved. If you have ever tried to solve any of your emotions you may have realized that it doesn’t work well. Sure you could avoid them or try to forget them and some people are better at this than others, but our emotions were not designed to solved, they were designed to be soothed. Soothing of emotion is just a recognition of what we are actually feeling, sitting with those emotions, and looking for comfort from God or others. In this current crisis people are looking for quick solutions and guaranteed methods of staying safe and getting through this quickly. Yet in all the solutions there is no peace because our emotions are not designed to be handled that way. When we give up trying to solve our emotions and look to soothe them, we will experience more comfort in the moment.

Emotions Are Temporary
Emotions are not permanent or set in stone. If you have sat with your emotions for any period of time you will have realized that they change rather quickly. I can go from feeling calm and connected to my wife and one thing can cause me to instantly feel upset and disconnected. If I choose to react to my emotion right away without taking the time to identify it and sit with it for a while I will become impulsive and do things I normally would not do. During this crisis there has been a lot of emotional reactivity happening in people’s lives. We can see this in the rush for certain supplies like toilet paper to the issues that are coming up in homes where people are stuck with angry family members or those who are out of control due to the stress and worry they are feeling. All of these things are the direct result of letting emotion drive us to react instead of understanding the temporary nature of emotion and learning to respond to it.

Emotions Bring Clarity
Whenever I take the time to sit down and really identify how I feel it brings clarity to what is going on inside of me. A lot of my catastrophic thinking and fears during this time are fueled by emotions I have not identified that cause me to think in certain ways. When I take the time to sit down and look at a feeling words list, I start to identify what is underneath the chaos I feel and it brings me a level of clarity that I would not have by trying to reason my way through what I am feeling.

Emotions Point To My Need
When I identify the emotions I am feeling it brings clarity to what I need for comfort. If I am feeling anxious or insecure I might need reassurance from others or to spend time with God in prayer. If I am feeling abandoned or alone I might need to connect with my family or close friends. If I am feeling sad I may just need to have someone sit with me and put their arm around me or share those feelings with God through journaling or prayer. The more clarity I have on what I feel the easier it is to handle my emotions in the way they were designed to be handled.

Suggestion for Working with Your Own Emotions
As you wrestle with your emotions this Holy Week as our world feels like it is falling apart,  remember that you are not alone. The entire world is wrestling with similar emotions at the same time and Jesus himself experienced the same emotions. Below are some things you can do as you look to work with your emotions: 

Step 1: Identify Your Feelings
Take some time with an emotions list to identify what you are feeling. It is important to use a list for this as it is difficult to explore your feelings when you are flooded:
Emotion Words List. The list enables us to zero in on specific things we feel instead of focusing on what is wrong.

Step 2: Explore Why You Feel the Way You Do
Once you have identified what you are feeling spend some time reflecting on why you are feeling that way for each of the emotions you identified. You may want to use a tool to journal your thoughts and feelings to see them outside your mind. I use a digital journaling application called
Day One, but you could use paper and pencil or the notes application on your phone or computer. Seeing what I am thinking and feeling brings clarity.

Step 3: Determine What You Might Need for Comfort
Finally spend some time thinking about what you might need for comfort in that moment. Think small and practical. Obviously we would all like this whole pandemic to go away but that thought will not bring us comfort because it is tied to a solution that is beyond our control. Instead look for ways to connect with others, change your environment, or spend time expressing your feelings to God.

As we reflect on what Jesus did for us on the cross this Good Friday, we must also remember that there was a resurrection three days later and just as Jesus’s death was not permanent, the situation we are in now is not permanent. Just as Jesus needed to spend time processing his feelings and seeking comfort for them in the midst of his storm, we too should take the same steps he did to process our own emotions and seek comfort from God and others.

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What Do You Think About Your Spouse?

couple holding hands
Lately in my work with couples I have seen a problem that creeps up in relationships. Every relationship has conflict. To say there is no conflict in a relationship usually means that one of the two people is holding back and not sharing for the sake of peace. If you really probed under the surface you would find that the quiet person is actually not happy and does have issues that he/she feels needs to be dealt with but for one reason or another doesn't feel bringing those things up will be helpful. So we all have conflict in relationships.

Over time, unaddressed conflict can lead people to begin to guess at their spouses' motives and they start to characterize their spouse by those negative views. So I might think my spouse is selfish because she always seems to want to get her way. Being selfish is not a good thing and the more and more I think about my spouse in a negative light, the more I begin to see that negative trait in her life. She asks for something that I think is unreasonable I say to myself, "See there she goes being selfish again." She balks at doing something that I feel she should drop everything to do and it further reinforces my view that she is selfish. She says she doesn't feel like Chinese food after I make the suggestion that I would like to go there and that adds another thing to back up my negative perception. If this goes on over time, pretty soon I really believe she is selfish and feel like I have a bunch of evidence to prove that is true.

Now if I choose to let my perceptions about my spouses motives guide how I view my spouse it will begin to effect my love for my spouse and my desire to connect with her. Who wants to connect with someone they think is selfish? Let this go long enough and I start to think it is a justice issue and begin to fight everything my spouse is doing and challenge her because selfish people need to be confronted and challenged on their selfishness. Why should you let a selfish person get away with their selfishness? You can see how this could lead to the unraveling of a marriage!

But what if I chose instead to give my spouse the benefit of the doubt? What if I chose to see her as the loving person I married? What if I chose to check things out before assuming the worst? How would that shape my interactions with her?

Going back to my examples above what if I ask about what I see as her unreasonable request and realize that it really isn't that unreasonable at all given the circumstances? What if I find out the reason she didn't drop everything for my request is because she already has a commitment to someone whose need is greater than mine? What if I find out she didn't want to go to Chinese not because she just wanted her way but because Chinese made her sick last time and she wants to enjoy her time with me? The list of possibilities could go on and on. The point is, when I choose to see my spouse in a positive light and give her the benefit of the doubt instead of presuming she is guilty until proven innocent, my attitude changes and the conflict in my relationship goes down because I am not picking as many fights based on my negative reaction to everything she says or does.

So how do think about your spouse? Have you allowed your attitude to change to the point where your spouse is your enemy? If so how is that guiding and tainting your responses to everything he or she does? Can your spouse do anything without you seeing the negative in it? If so you need to adjust how you view your spouse and choose to see the best instead of the worst. Watch how doing that changes your attitude and interactions with your spouse and what that does to your feelings of love and connectedness in your marriage.

Starting a Marriage Ministry Part 2: Determine the Needs

married life logo
In the last blog post I talked about some things to consider if you are looking at starting a marriage ministry in your church. One of those things included surveying your people to get an idea of what they need and the best ways to deliver those things. At Saddleback Church I did a survey of all of the married couples of our church and it helped me to shape what we are doing today in the marriage ministry.
When it comes to surveying the couples in your church one of the best tools I have found for doing this is Survey Monkey. Survey Monkey is a survey website that lets you put together surveys, email the link to people you want to survey, and once they respond (their responses are anonymous) aggregates the results so you can see the trends in people's responses. The tool is very easy to customize and use and highly recommend it for any surveying you may be doing.
So I put together a survey to get a handle on where people where at and how best to proceed with the ministry. Below is a sample of the questions I asked. You could ask any questions you feel you need to ask but I really wanted to know their struggles and the best days/times to run events so I wasn't scheduling things when they weren't available. I am so glad I did this as I found that Friday was the best day to do something which is one of the last days I would have chosen had I not asked. Here are the questions I asked:
  1. What types of things have you used in the past to improve your marriage? (Options: Time away, Date nights, Counseling, Small Groups, Retreats, Seminars, Books, Time Alone, Prayer, Working on Self, Other)
  2. Which of the above have you found most effective?
  3. If the church holds classes/seminars dealing with the topic of marriage, which time slots would work best for you (check all that apply).
  4. What would be the biggest obstacle to you attending a marriage event?
  5. If we were to offer other classes or seminars dealing with marital issues, what types of topics would you like us to cover?
  6. What other events and/or resources would you like to see made available to couples?
From the results we received we used these to shape our marriage ministry. It is always valuable to get a handle on where people are at as you seek to shape a ministry. If you shape it in the way they will best receive it, you can help and reach more people. As you will see, I continued to survey after each event to continually refine what we were doing. In the next article we will talk about setting up your model for marital health.


Starting a Marriage Ministry Part 1: Setting the Direction

married life logo
I haven't written much in a while about marriage ministry and the process we went through at Saddleback Church in getting our marriage ministry off the ground so I thought I would do that in a series of articles on my blog. Hopefully it will help you if you are looking to get something started in your own church.
When it comes to starting any ministry there are a few questions you need to answer:

Is this ministry something our church needs and can do right now?
This is a very important question. Just because a ministry is valid and seems to be a big need does not mean it needs to happen now. You need to make sure your church is ready to do something like this and is on board to make it happen. There are so many things that happen in a church, you want to make sure it is a support not a distraction.

Does your ministry support and help fulfill the vision and mission of your church?
There has been a lot written on vision and mission in business and ministry circles. There was a time where every ministry in the church needed to have a vision and mission statement to be valid. Now having a vision and mission is a good thing but if that vision and mission does not roll up to the overall vision and mission of the church, the ministry can become a distraction instead of a help to the church.
When you look to start a marriage ministry at your church, your vision and mission statement should be the vision and mission of the church. If your ministry doesn't fulfill the vision and mission of your local church, then you shouldn't do it. This will force you to think long and hard about why marriage ministry is important and how it fits in your church. When we set out to do marriage ministry here at Saddleback, we had to consider how it fit the overall vision and mission of Saddleback Church. This thinking also guided how we put the ministry together so it was integrated well with our church (and I'll talk about how we did that and how that works in another post).
Now when I say it needs to line up with your churches vision and mission I am NOT saying you should try to get the church to re-write it's vision and mission statement to include marriage ministry. You don't need that for your ministry to be a success. If your ministry aligns with the vision, mission and strategy of your church people will see it as a value.

What Do Our Married Couples Need?
Don't proceed without first getting a gauge on what the married couples in your church need and are struggling with. So many of us start ministries thinking we know what people need. So we put in a lot of time and energy to develop something that no one needs or wants. Instead of doing that, take some time to talk with people in your church, survey them, and find out what their needs are. I'll give you some ideas of how to make this work in a future blog post. Know your married couples well enough that you know what you are developing is what they need.
If you spend the time up front thinking through the three things, making sure your church is ready for this ministry, that it fulfills the vision and mission of your church, and you have a good idea of the needs of the people you are trying to reach you will have a good base on which to build a solid marriage ministry. In the next article I will talk about how to get this information and get started with the process.

Misconceptions About Prayer

When it comes to prayer many of us have learned different things at different times that have led to a lot of misconceptions about what prayer is. We pray in groups and feel the pressure to perform because in those settings we are not really praying to God but we are speaking to one another. In those times of prayer we are concerned with saying something profound or something that will actually have an effect in the lives of those we are praying with. Over time we get focused on the outcome and forget that prayer is about a relationship with God and our communication with him. As a result we develop different misconceptions about what prayer is about and it leads us to a place of not really wanting to pray or seeing the purpose of it. Here are a few of the misconceptions I have seen:

Quoting Scripture Leads to More Effective Prayers
One misconception is that quoting scripture in our prayers makes them more powerful or more effective. This misconception comes from how we have experienced group prayer. Have you ever noticed that we tend to all pray based on the way the first person who prays in a group starts? So if the person quotes scripture we think we have to too. Since most of us can only think of John 3:16 on the spot, we sit there trying to figure out how we can make that verse fit our prayer. If you have ever prayed with Pastors we tend to use scripture in our prayers from time to time. Because we see a Pastor using scripture we begin to feel like quoting scripture in our prayers is what makes them more effective. So we stress out over whether we know enough scripture off the top of our heads to use in our prayer life. This eventually leads us to a place where our prayers are dry and repetitive instead of from our hearts. There is no where in the Bible that says we have to use scripture in our prayers. We are asked to come to God with an open heart and have an honest dialogue with him. If we want to use scriptures in our prayers to remind us of who God is and what his promises are to us, fine. But those scriptures are for us not for him. He already knows what he said so we don’t have to feel like we need to quote scripture to him in order for him to hear our prayers.

Effective Prayers Lead to the Answer You Want
We have this idea that if we just learn how to pray right, our prayers will be more effective. “More effective” is usually code for getting what we want. We all want to pray knowing that God will answer those prayers in the way we want him to answer them. But we figure we need to perform the right kind of prayer to get the answer we want. So we look for ways to pray better and angles we can take to get what we want. We hear of “prayer warriors” who seem to be really effective in prayer and we want to be just like them. The problem with all of this is that prayer is not about getting what we want. Instead prayer is about a relationship with God and a desire to have our wills aligned with his. For most of us, we look at how Jesus prayed in the garden of Gethsemane when he said, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.” (Matthew 26: 39). We take that to mean that we ask for what we want but then we hedge our bets by saying, “But God if you want to do something else then your will is ok too.” The reality is, Jesus was not hedging his bets or telling God he was ok with his will if he didn’t want to take the suffering away from him. He was really saying, “I want your will to happen no matter what. Since I am weak, please align my will to yours so I make sure I go through with the suffering ahead of me.” Effective prayer is ultimately about aligning our hearts and wills with Gods so much so that we stop asking for things that we want and starting praying for things that God wants.

As Long as I’m Thankful God Will Answer My Prayers
Some of us think that it is the attitude of our hearts that determine if God will do what we want him to or not. So we make sure we thank God for what he is going to do for us. In some way, we think that if we thank God ahead of time for something we want him to do he is obligated to do it out of politeness. After all, what are we thanking him for if he doesn’t come through and do it? We point to passages like Philippians 4 where it says in verses 6, “Be anxious for nothing but in everything with prayer and petition with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God,” and we figure that the passage is telling us to thank God ahead of time. The problem is, the word in that verse for thanksgiving is past tense. It literally means thank God for all the things he has already done. In doing this we can trust him more because we know he has been there for us in the past and will continue to be there for us in the future. Our thankfulness is a remembrance of who God is and what he has done and that is what leads to his “peace that passes all understanding.”

Get a Head Start on Praying for What You Need
Most of us are concerned with making sure our future is secure. There is nothing we can do to control the future so we worry about it and stress about it all the time. This spills over into our prayer life. We figure it takes a number of prayers for God to know we are serious so we better get a head start and pray and ask for everything we need for the future instead of always waiting until the last minute and hoping for a miracle. So we tend to pray “Costco Prayers” where we ask God for what we need for the month or year and then come back to him later for the next installment. Yet the Bible tells us that we are to pray, “Give us this day our daily bread.” In other words, we are to pray for what we need just for that day not for the whole month or year. The reason God asks us to do this is to remind us of our dependency on him. If we got everything up front we would only remember our dependency on God once a month or once a year. Instead we need to be aware of that dependency on a moment by moment basis.

Prayer is something that all of us struggle with from time to time. We have misconceptions about prayer that come from our experiences with public prayer and some of our own anxiety when it comes to the things we worry about in this life. But prayer really is a time of communicating with God and getting to know his heart so well that our very wills are aligned with his so that we are more concerned with doing what he wants us to do than getting him to do what we think is best.


Wrestling with the Soul

“And what do you benefit if you gain the whole world but lose your own soul? Is anything worth more than your soul?” Matthew 16:26

I have had several talks with people lately and been reading a lot about the care of our souls. So many of us are good at doing the work of ministry but struggle when it comes to actually being a good minister. We have this thing where we substitute our work for the actual relationship we have with Christ and this causes many of us to go down the road of burn out and fatigue in ministry. How do we get a handle on our internal lives to help us to serve from a place of being filled up?

It seems to me there are two things working at the same time. On the one had we have the issue of desire and on the other hand we have the issue of our identity. These two things need to work together if we are to live from of place of taking care of our souls.

The issue of desire is an interesting one. Many of us like the idea of having a close relationship with Christ but few of of us want to do the work required to actually have it. We talk all around it and even attend courses and events to learn about how to have it, yet when it comes to actually doing what is necessary to have that close relationship with Christ, we have excuses or substitute things we think are of equal value in its place. We tend to want to take the easy road to relationship when there is nothing that can replace actually spending time with someone to get to know them. I see a similar thing in many couples who come to me for counseling. They all like the idea of marriage and what they can get out of it, but few really want to put the work in to have the marriage they want. So they take short cuts and stop communicating and start complaining when things don’t go their way. They all come into counseling looking for a short cut around the hard work it takes to maintain a relationship. In our spiritual lives, we too take short cuts all the time and then wonder why we don’t have the relationship with Christ that we all so desperately want. If we are going to take care of our souls and grow in our faith, we need to develop the desire and then respond to it in our pursuit of relationship with Christ.

The other issue that creeps up in our lives and effects how we serve and minister to others is our identity issues. To maintain spiritual health we need to be anchored in such a way that our lives are not thrown around by the things that come our way. When we are in a place of complete trust and we are taking care of our souls, we handle things in life with a depth of character that only a settled identity could have. But because of the fall and our humanness we struggle with two sides of a vicious coin. On the one side we have insecurity that says my identity is wrapped up in what others think of me and pride which says I am always right and others need to recognize how great I am. We tend to fluctuate between these things when we are driven by anxiety or need to feel we matter. The insecure side is looking for others to validate us and when they don’t come through we claim to be victims of some wrong and sulk and manipulate to get some sense of self from others. On the flip side if we are prideful we assume others are wrong and we get cynical and critical when others can’t seem to get with the program and see things from our perspective and act in our timing which is always right in our eyes. Cynicism and feeling sorry for ourselves are sure signs our life is not balanced and we are not taking care of our souls. Our call is walk in the middle of those two things and hold them in check because we know our identity is not found in what others say about us or how smart we are. Our identity is in a relationship and that relationship is with Christ.

The more we pay attention to our desire and settle the issue of our identity we set the stage for a soul that can be cared for and grow. As we seek to be authentic people whose back stage is the same as their front stage we learn that living life the way God intended is not just the right thing to do, but the only way to live.


Taking Care of Our Souls

I’ve just started reading a book by my friend Lance Witt entitled Replenish: Leading from a Healthy Soul. In the opening chapter of his book, he has a sentence that I think summarizes the issues most of us deal with when it comes to our spiritual formation. He says, “Having talked to some whose ministry has come crashing down around them, I can tell you the convergence of outward success, self-deception, soul neglect, and relational isolation creates the perfect storm for disaster.” These four things are important things for us to keep in mind as essentials when it comes to thinking about our own spiritual growth as leaders.

Outward Success
There is something about us that causes us to want to be successful in life. There is nothing wrong with doing our best and striving towards goals we have set in our lives. We are called to be good stewards of the things God has given us. The problem comes not when we do all we can to do our best to use the gifts God has given us. The problem comes when we actually start having success and begin to believe that we are the source of that success. When you and I get to this place we begin to believe what others tell us about ourselves and pride starts to set in. When that happens, we start to drift away from our close relationship with God because our ego has no need for any kind of dependence on anyone or anything. Meanwhile, our soul and character begins to be neglected and our interior life doesn’t have the strength to support the weight of our exterior life. When this happens we are set up to find some kind of relief from the pressure that success brings and many end up doing things that end our ministry. We have got to get beyond measuring how well we are doing by the numbers and successes of the things we do in the ministry and start to measure our success by our reflection on those successes and failures we have in ministry and how we have grown in and through each experience. The more our focus is on our interior life, the more we will have the character to handle the successes in our exterior life.

We all have a propensity towards fooling ourselves. There is something about the fall that allows us to talk ourselves into anything right or wrong. None of us likes to admit weakness or failure so we excuse those things away and don’t choose to work on what is most important. Without ruthless honesty about who we are and where we are at, we will never be able to truly grow to become more like Christ. It is in moments of self deception that we hide pieces of our lives in the dark corners of our soul and don’t want to shine a light in those directions for fear we might be exposed or look bad in front of others. The reality is, however, that the more we actually live in the light and let our weaknesses and dark spots show, that we actually experience the freedom and peace that we are all after in this world. The more I work to hide what is going on in my life, the more I get caught in playing a role and create more stress and tension in my life because I now have to remember and juggle this person who is not naturally who I am. I have talked with many people who have thought their sins where too great for anyone to know and that people would hate them if they knew what they were struggling with. These same people, when they chose to stop deceiving themselves and put their dark corners into the light, experienced a level of acceptance and grace that they never thought they would experience. Most people admire leaders who are transparent more than they do leaders who seem to be perfect. As humans we have a built in meter that tells us someone can’t be as perfect as they are presenting and we look for ways to expose it. If you hide in self deception, you will be found out eventually, and as you wait to be exposed, your life is filled with stress.

Soul Neglect
It is so easy in ministry to neglect our souls. We are so busy with the work of the ministry that we talk ourselves into thinking the work of the ministry is the same as taking care of our souls. When I was going into seminary I remember my dad telling me something that literally saved my soul. He said not to think that my study in class was a substitute for my time with God. He said if I didn’t take care of my soul and build my relationship with God I would end up dry and discouraged. I took his advice and was able to come through seminary ready for ministry. I knew plenty of other guys who didn’t heed that advice and burned out before they even got started. As leaders, we need to remember that our soul needs to be filled up and our relationship with God is the single most important thing to keep in tact as we seek to minister to others in His name. Neglect your soul and you have just hurt your congregation more than anything else.

Relational Isolation
This one issue is one of the biggest reasons leaders, and really any human being, fall. When we have no one in our lives to speak truth to us and to help us see ourselves and our choices from the perspective of reality rather than our well crafted rationalizations, we really are vulnerable. There is something about us as leaders that causes us to shy away from true relationships. We tend to believe the lie that people want a leader who has no faults and therefore we need to keep our distance from people if we are to keep our image up and ultimately our job. There is also a prideful side that causes us to think that we are the one’s who have arrived or are further along than the people we lead so we really don’t need the same level of accountability as the people we lead do. When we buy this lie we are missing out on an important aspect of how God created us. There is something about community that God built into everyone of us. He wants relationship with us and asks that we have relationship with others. When we are relationally isolated we literally lose something that God intended for each of us to have. When we lose that sense of connection and have no one who can see our lives and speak into them, we have no way of knowing how we are doing spiritually and can end up in a place where we talk ourselves into doing the wrong things for what we perceive as rational reasons. We all need the support and the accountability relationships bring if we are to grow as followers of Jesus Christ. Isolate relationally and that need to connect will come out in dysfunctional ways.

As we look at how to help one another to take care of our souls and to grow our lives and characters to look more like Jesus Christ, we have to look out for the things that can do the most damage. If we don’t manage our outward success, self deception, soul, and relationships our impulses and exterior pressures will manage us and drive us to a place of dryness and vulnerability. But the more we manage our souls and choose to live in the light in relationship with others the more we will experience the growth and stability we need as leaders and followers of Christ.

Countering the Myths of Dating

In the previous post I talked about the myths singles have when it comes to dating and how those myths do more to damage their prospects for a lifelong relationship than they do to guarantee a happy result. When it comes down to it, everyone wants guarantees especially when it comes to something as intimate as a relationship. The reality is, there are no guarantees and nothing you do can somehow create a guarantee. We are human and as a result we all make mistakes and hurt one another. But there are ways we can enjoy the process and create an environment of openness and honesty that are essential for any good relationship to thrive. Let’s look at some counters to the myths we discussed previously.

First, the concept of having a list is not a bad one in and of itself. Where it usually goes wrong is in the execution of that list. Most lists I have seen have characteristics down to the hair color of the other person or having to like basket weaving like I do. What I have found is that these lists are really based on a level of selfishness. The more we live the less we are willing to compromise the things we enjoy doing. There is also a level of pain involved as well. I have been hurt so many times that I am going to narrow the list to make sure that doesn’t happen again. So rather than being flexible to learn new things or to have somethings that we enjoy but our spouse wouldn’t, we put it on a list and make it a non-negotiable. I would never have married my wife if I made my love of playing basketball a thing that my future wife would have to love and do with me. So based on something I had on my list I would have eliminated the woman who I can truly say is a perfect match for me and the love of my life. How many people have you discarded because of your list?

Instead of having a narrow list have a short list of non-negotiables. On that list I would have things like, must be a follower of Jesus Christ and committed to following Him, must be a trustworthy person of character, and I should be attracted to the person. That’s pretty much it. You could add some other things to it but I would keep it simple which would increase the potential people you could date and would probably lead to finding someone who would surprise you. Most great relationships are between people who are opposites. I know many people think this would only create a lot of conflict but I have seen the same level of conflict between people who are the same, they just argue over whose way of doing the same thing is the best. Open up your list and see what happens in your dating life. You might be surprised!

Second, the idea that you can somehow speed up the process to avoid wasting time with someone who doesn’t end up being your spouse is not only a myth but a near guarantee that you will not find someone. Think about it, if you turn every date into a job interview you are communicating a few things to the person you are dating. First, you are saying you are the judge and jury on whether or not this person is worthy to date you. It makes you critical right off the bat and most people don’t want to be graded on their performance. Plus who’s to say they are not evaluating you? How would you feel with someone interrogating you? Second, you are saying that you are desperate and if the person passes the quiz you might propose to them on the second date. Third, it communicates you are not into them as a person but as the potential of who they could be for you. Everyone wants to be loved and cherished for who they are not who they could become.

Instead of speeding up the process, relax. Allow the relationship to naturally develop and it will be clear over time if this relationship will lead to marriage or not. You cannot speed up the process to fit your timeline. Just like everyone else on the planet you have to go through this process of discovery and getting to know each other so you might as well relax instead of being stressed out over an imaginary timeline you have created for your life. If you really want to get married you will only get there by being yourself and enjoying getting to know another person and having them get to know you. Besides if you relax the odds are you will find the other person likes you more that way than if you are a stressed out interrogator!

Next, basing your decision on whether the other person is going through the proper protocol on how you think relationships should work is not a good way to go about a relationship. First you have to figure out how universally known your protocol is. Not everyone thinks the way you do and if they have some other protocol they are working on you could both miss each other miserably. Just because a guy does not make a move after your predetermined time does not mean he is not a good leader or will be wishy washy his whole life. Most likely he has been burned in the past and is afraid to take the risk of being rejected again. He is also probably missing the “signals” you think are so clear that you are giving him. Just because she doesn’t seem to respond to every joke, gift or idea you have with enthusiasm does not mean she is bored with you. It may just be that your expectations are too high for how she should respond. Rather than wait for perfect protocol, take the risk yourself and be honest. Talk about how you feel and where you see the relationship going. It is ok for the woman to ask the guy about where he is at in the next step of the relationship (within reason time-wise. See number two above). He might actually be relieved you asked. It is ok as a guy to ask what she thinks of something without looking weak. She would probably appreciate the fact you asked.

Finally, the mind reading and interpretation that goes on with the “tea leaf” crowd does nothing to help a relationship in fact it only creates more problems. It is exhausting trying to interpret every word, lack of word, action, or lack of action. Not only is it exhausting but if you interpret it wrong, which you will 90 percent of the time, you can end up having a negative attitude towards the other person that they feel without being able to figure out why you are mad other than you are just a jerk. If most people are mind readers than I would have to say they are all not very good at it based on the conflict I see that comes from imaginary insults and events. If you want a healthy relationship you have to talk about the things you are unclear about and begin to give the other person the benefit of the doubt. If he or she didn’t call it doesn’t mean they are not interested it may just mean they are busy or working at that time. If they are not enthusiastic every time they get a call from you it probably means they are normal not that they are no longer interested. Do yourself a favor and relax and stop reading into everything. Allow the natural flow of events to happen in a relationship and watch the results. If you are uncertain about something or think the person is trying to tell you something non verbally, ask. Yep I said it, ask. It won’t mean you are too needy unless you ask about everything. But if you are truly unsure occasionally asking instead of assuming will only lead to greater clarity and understanding which are critical for every healthy relationship to develop.

Dating is already a tricky thing. Making it more difficult with the myths out there can only lead to more disappointment. But if you choose to allow the process to naturally take place by being yourself and giving it time, you might just find a relationship you would never have considered in the past and if you think about it, that’s how most people who are married found one another. It was usually the last person they would have thought of. So relax and enjoy the process.

The Myths of Dating

Dating is one of those things that causes most people a lot of anxiety, especially in the single world. Relationships are already hard enough to establish and maintain with two independent people trying to figure out how to relate to one another in this identity called a “relationship.” Add to that the pressure to find the “one” who you will marry, have a family with and hopefully grow old with and you have a recipe for a difficult process. With all this pressure put on a few hours with another person who may or may not fit the profile of “marrying material” it is no wonder so many singles have been frustrated and lose a sense of hope when it comes to having all of their dreams come true. There are so many myths surrounding this dating process with advice coming from every corner, how do you navigate that advice? Here are some of my thoughts on where this advice goes wrong.

First you have the “list” people. You know how this works. You are told to make a list of all of the things you want in a person and then you go out and find a person to fit your list. It is kind of like shopping for a mate. After all, we shop for just about everything else in life, why not a future spouse? You are told to stick to your guns when it comes to your list and never compromise on that list. So singles go out and make a list that only God could fulfill and they wonder why they are not meeting new people or finding the right person to marry. Never mind that many of them could not live up to their own list or if the person on their list had his/her own list they wouldn’t be on it. With such a narrow list of attributes and things the person wants in a spouse, they miss so many opportunities around them because they would never consider anyone who doesn’t fit the list.

Then you have the “don’t waste your time” people. These are the people who say that you are only wasting time if you allow a relationship to develop over time only to find out that person wasn’t the one. So instead of wasting your time trying to figure out if this person is marrying material or not try to figure it out on the first date or second if you are not really efficient with your time. So you go out on a date and turn it into a job interview asking all kinds of questions, many of an extremely personal nature, to a person who you just met. Of course never mind the fact that you are projecting that this date is not for fun but an evaluation of the other person’s potential performance as an adequate suitor for marriage. What person doesn’t love having their performance evaluated? Everyone likes performance reviews at work right?

Next, you have what I like to call the “proper protocol” people. These people know how relationships are supposed to work and don’t cross any lines when it comes to those generally known rules. If someone doesn’t play by these universal rules than they must not be the right person to marry. You know what these rules are. The man is supposed to take the initiative when it comes to the relationship. He should know what he wants and he should do all the directing and asking in the relationship. If he doesn’t, then it shows he is not a good leader or is a terrible decision maker and therefore not a good candidate to lead a relationship. The woman is supposed to be good at following the lead and should look like a super model every time you see her. If not she may be too bossy or critical or only taking care of herself to get a guy and then will let herself go after they get married. Or you could have the reverse of these roles depending on each person’s perspective on how relationships should go.

Finally, you have what I call the “tea leaf” people. These people try to read the signs and determine whether a person is interested and what every move the person makes or doesn’t make really means for the relationship. Everything is analyzed from how soon the person calls or texts back to what certain conversations and topics really mean. He didn’t call back for two hours it must mean he is not interested in me. She didn’t laugh at my joke. It must mean she finds me boring. There is no end to the analysis and second guessing that goes on with this group. More time is spent on deciphering than is spent on really getting to know the other person and allowing the relationship to develop.

Each of these types of dating approaches usually leads to the same place, the end of a potential relationship. People are complex and yes you want to make sure you are making the right decisions when it comes to investing the direction of your life with someone else. But if you don’t allow that relationship time to develop and breathe without all the expectations and evaluations you are tempted to put on it, you will have a difficult time finding a relationship that could lead to marriage. In the next article I will discuss counters to each of the types of people above and some ways you can begin to overcome these mentalities to make yourself someone who others can relax with.

Leadership Insights from the Tech World

I saw this article over at the Nerd Business website that is a collection of 22 quotes from the leaders of high tech businesses. Reading through the quotes I found a few that really stood out to me and got me thinking about leadership and how that works in a church context. Below are a few of the quotes and my comments on what I thought about what each leader said. One of the overarching things that stood out to me was the fact that each of these leaders did not settle for the ordinary and each realized their role in leading their organization to success.

The Importance of Character
“As a leader, you’re not allowed to go out and have beers on Friday night and break character.”
Scott McNealy
Co-founder, Sun Microsystems

Character is one of the things a leader has that no one can take away from him/her. It is character that should be at the center of all our decisions and it is character that causes us to put the good of others ahead of the things we feel we have a right to do on our time off. It is this awareness of what we represent and who we represent and how we respond to it that shows our integrity and character. In ministry I am never off duty nor should I be. If I claim to be one person in public but then choose to act a different way when I am “off the clock,” which person am I really? Am I playing a part? Or does my life have a value and integrity that stands the test of consistency? The world doesn’t need people to who could break a character they are trying to be, we need people who have character that no one can break.

Growth and Change
“Your advantage at a startup is that you can demand employees who crush it and who are above-average, and compensate them with stock options. Average people should work at average (by which I mean big) companies. Big companies actually run better with average folks, because those people don’t rock the boat.”

Jason Calacanis
Founder, Weblogs

How we empower people will directly impact the results we get. It is true that most big companies and churches have a hard time moving on a dime and allowing employees to make the changes necessary for things to really happen. I have been at two large churches and a large company before that and I have have seen how difficult it is to move the titanic to get anything to change. Yet change can still happen in large organizations and you can still get above average people to work in those organizations as long as you allow those people the opportunity to make changes, take risks, take care of them, give them what they need and get out of their way. Sure not every idea is a good one but if you don’t provide the environment to find out, then you will try nothing new and by definition that means you are falling further behind and become less and less relevant.

Decision Making
“The company that consistently makes and implements decisions rapidly gains a tremendous, often decisive, competitive advantage.”
Steve Blank
Founder, Epiphany

One of the most frustrating things any employee can experience is the meeting after the meeting syndrome. This is where no real decisions are made in the meeting you were just in so there needs to be a meeting after the meeting to determine what might or might not happen. The delay in decision making is one of the primary killers of innovation in any organization. That indecision can usually be linked to fear of trying new things or too many structures in the organization to go through to get anything done. The sitting around and waiting that usually follows from such delays usually has the effect of losing good people who want to make a difference but can’t stand to deal with a lack of decision making. Meanwhile other places who make fast decisions are usually quick on the draw and get things done. In the church world this is, as my Pastor Rick Warren says, “riding waves” that come your way and being quick enough to catch the waves early instead of when they have already reached the beach. Riding those waves usually leads to moments that could never be recaptured and because they come with no warning require a great deal of faith.

Well these are a few of my thoughts on some of the quotes. You can read the rest in the article.