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3 Ways to Avoid Awkward Holiday Conversations

Cue the Soft, Peaceful Music…
     I love the Christmas season. The deeper my walk with Christ, the more I appreciate the time when we celebrate His incarnation. Yes, I’m a foodie – all the foods, drinks, smells, and flavors of Thanksgiving and the weeks leading up to Christmas create vivid, IMAX moments in my memory of seasons past. The most powerful thought that comes to my mind each year is that Jesus came to earth to deal with the source of our troubles – sin and death.

Sour Notes
     Everyone around you has the same problems. Sin and death. Some just experience louder and longer versions of the same struggles. Some just have layers and layers of problems piled on them. But, essentially it all comes down to the problem of living in a broken, Genesis 3 world. We’ve trained our oldest daughter to recognize one of the simplest results of the Fall – hurt people hurt people. And, we’re all hurt people, but grace means we don’t have to let the cycle continue and we don’t have to be the source of someone else’s hurt.

Enter “The Awkward Conversation”
     What does the intersection of Thanksgiving/Christmas and “hurt people” mean to you? Sometimes, it means running into someone you haven’t seen in a long time and asking one of those “awkward” questions:

“So, Sandy, you and Rick getting married soon?” Rick just left Sandy for his executive assistant. Oops.
“Hey, great to see you! Where’s Margaret?” Margaret died of cancer three weeks ago. Tragic silence.

Rewriting the Script:
    Too close to home? Been there. Done that. So, what do I do, show up and not say anything? Well. That’s an option… But, the bible offers several practical disciplines that God commands us to practice before that awkward conversation that will make it ten times easier to handle the kinds of situations that only exist in a fallen broken world filled with fallen broken people. Actors don’t just “learn lines”, they prepare their character. Athletes don’t just work out, they practice their craft. Wise disciples of Christ engage the Master and His wisdom.

1. Show up “Clean”.
     For years, Men Step Up’s table leaders have carried a card around in their wallets that demands of them 5 things, one of which is “Show up clean and on time.” “Clean” to these guys and to anyone as a disciple of Christ who disciples others, means asking themselves and the Lord this one question: “Lord, is there any unconfessed sin in my life?” David wrote “Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting. (Psalm 139.22-24)” Jesus would later teach in the Beattitudes: “blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

     Bottom line – sin clouds our vision and numbs us to not only the voice of the Holy Spirit, but the innate sensibilities God has impressed on our conscience and memory of Godly wisdom. This prevents us from paying attention to the fact that “Rick” isn’t in the room and Sandy looks a bit emotionally aloof or that Margaret, too, isn’t at the party and we recall her name showing up in a prayer chain email a few months back. What if we prayed those lines from Psalm 139 on the way to ever function and begged God to “create in [us] a clean heart?”

2. Stay Clean. 
     For personal reasons, Cristine and I have eliminated alcohol from our diet as of about two years ago. But, have you ever noticed that some of the most careless things can come out of our mouths after only one glass of wine or one snobby, locally-micro-brewed IPA? Scripture is replete with commands to “be alert”, “be sober minded”, “consider others better than yourselves”. When we’re not at peak performance, around tons of people (each of which bring their own “holiday” baggage to the room, not to mention our own), how can we possibly be as alert, sober minded, and attentive to the needs of others when we’re even mildly impaired? I could focus on the word “mildly”, but it’s used here to describe the word “impaired“. Are you with me?

     So, as a rule, I used to show up with a “two drink maximum”. But, since we are all easily blinded by the wiles of our own indiscretions, what would it look like if you took the number of drinks you consider “conservative” and cut it in half or quarter?

3. Got Dirty? Get Clean Fast.
     The most astounding prayer Jesus ever prayed was hanging on the cross while insults were being hurled at Him: “forgive them Father, for they know not what they do.” For you and I to get great at praying (and really meaning) that prayer is a major chunk of walking the Christian walk. Family times often bring awkward tensions brought about by unconfessed or unforgiven sins. Work parties can so easily turn into contests of who can suppress the urge to tell someone what they’ve wanted to say about unfair conditions the longest. But, forgiveness is the only true solution.
     John Woodall once asked me “are you aware of your subtle methods of seeking revenge?” That question stuck with me like a drop of gas fallen from the pump onto my shoe. Impossible to shake the smell, right? It’s true – you and I all share in Cain’s folly… “I’ll show you!” The regular practice of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation ought to flow from the believer with force.
     “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.”

Have a great Thanksgiving and a Christmas season marked by incredible “un-awkwardness”.

in Christ,

AP

3 Steps Toward Getting Unstuck

Doing Two Things at Once…     Have you ever been on the phone with someone while you were driving to work, get to work and think “Wow, how did I get here?” 

Auto-Pilot Explained
     There’s great brain science out there that explains this phenomenon. Without getting hyper-biological, let’s just say that God designed our brains to do really great things. One of those things our brain yearns to do is to embed familiar routines into the “auto-pilot” section of our brain. We’ve subconsciously trained ourselves how to get to work by storing “directions to work” in the routine-function section of our minds (also called the basal ganglia). When we shifted our “full” attention to the phone conversation, auto-pilot is what helped us arrive at work instead of Peru.

     Much of what you and I have learned as children has been broken down into easily recalled “chunks” (how to go to the bathroom, how to lift a glass, what to say when someone gives you a toy, how to respond to someone who yells at you, etc.) and stored it in autopilot. This saves us from wasting time and energy rethinking the routine each time we have to do it.

    The Old Testament teaching from Proverbs 22:6 is echoed in Jesus’ teaching “…but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher. (Luke 6:40)” Which, begs the question:

Who (more often, what) has been your teacher?


We’ve All Been Discipled by Someone
     Many of my teachers growing up were contrary or marginally average examples of godly behavior. It took time in the Word and the Holy Spirit to expose to me the places where I’d learned wicked examples of auto pilot. Today, I was interviewing a mental health professional and he reminded me that when men and women are under great pressure they tend heavily to fall into default modes of thinking learned from their childhood/family of origin. The brain science I’m reading right now fully confirms this assertion: while we may have new ways of thinking and be a “new creation” in Christ, we don’t always let go of our old programming. Could this perhaps explain why some of the following passages appear in scripture:

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Romans 12.2a)”

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. (2 Cor. 10:5)”

“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. (Phil. 4:8)”

All Things New?
     When we come to faith in Christ, we do, indeed, become new creations, but this does not mean our most basic programming is completely erased. How much good would we be to God’s kingdom if our mind were erased, personality wiped clean, and we had to learn reading, writing, even potty training all over? We have been “trained up (Prov. 22:6)” for a reason. But, submission to God in all we do, abiding in Christ and walking by the Spirit, demands that we are constantly renewed in our minds. We have much to relearn and the Holy Spirit who is our teacher, but we must dedicate time and mental bandwidth to the process.

  1. Take an inventory of “pretension that set up against the knowledge of God” and pray – multiple times daily – that the Holy Spirit will renew those old, bad, faulty thought patterns, giving you a “new” auto pilot. But, make sure to do this on paper – soon, I’ll be posting on how your brain isn’t designed to hold too many important things in the forefront – there’s great practical value in getting things out of our heads and onto paper.
  2. Think on these things – don’t just say “I’m going to not do x.” There’s great truth to “garbage in, garbage out”. Ask God to fill you with new desires and that’s likely what you’ll get. We’re in charge of our minds and what we consciously let in. Memorize the fruits of the Spirit – (Gal 5.22-23) and Philippians 4:8 and actively pray that God leans you toward these new ways. Life in Christ is not about good behavior, rather a changed heart that puts out godly behavior. But, let’s at least have a Holy Spirit Wish List.
  3. Say “no” to self-condemnation when you “fall off the wagon”. Looking in any mirror can show any of us far more faults than we’d care to think about tackling. But, at least now, we’ve got a more exhaustive list of what to pray for. Remember that while you are imperfect, God is leading you to perfection that will only be complete in His Kingdom reign.While you will make mistakes, Christ already paid the price for them – no sense beating yourself up when Christ has already been beaten for you.


     This January, I’ll be running a half day workshop called “Getting Things Done God’s Way: Restoring Order to Your Mind, Your Work, and Your Life”, where we’ll be covering how this stuff is just as related to getting your inbox to “empty” as it is to sharing the gospel at work and loving your enemy while you’re under attack.

Be Encouraged
God wouldn’t have put this stuff in the Bible if He didn’t intend to help us on the journey.

in Christ,

AP

God without Rivals

“You shall have no other gods before me.” (Ex. 20:3)

     What if we could just get this first commandment right all the time? Read that again… Would we work 80 hours a week? Would we abuse our bodies with junk food? Would we abuse people around us with harsh words? Would we neglect the people who need us most? Would we steal from our “neighbor”? Would we even covet our neighbor’s stuff?

     Tim Keller says “Sin isn’t only doing bad things, it is more fundamentally making good things into ultimate things. Sin is building your life and meaning on anything, even a very good thing, more than on God.” When we elevate something lesser than god to a rival position above God, we are sinning… Ouch.

     So, how’s that going for ya?

     Me, too.

     The beauty of the Christian life, though, is that we’re all in the same boat – we “kill and covet” because we don’t have/get what we want, because what we want can never be fulfilled finally and fully by the 7,000,000 page menu of this world’s offerings. Yet, despite this brutal fact of our reality, God loves us enough to sacrifice Himself for us in Christ. God went “all in” for us at the poker table of redemption (awkward metaphor?).

Be Encouraged
     Today, you and I as followers of Christ can take comfort in the fact that God is a jealous God. Really? Yes! Perfect, holy, awesome, great, all-knowing, all-seeing, all-powerful God is better for you and I than all the stuff we could work for, covet, steal, or attain in this world and He’s so committed to that, that He made it the first command, sent Christ to suffer and die for our sins, and sent the Holy Spirit to help us do all He designed for us to do.

     By the Spirit, by the Spirit, by the Spirit… The first command is clearly a hurdle too high for any of us, yet God sent the Spirit to empower us to “do all things”. In a Genesis 3 world, none of us can truly expect to do this perfectly for any extended period of time. However, this is one of many voids the Spirit was sent to fill.

     Bigger than that is the fact that our God is bigger than all of this. We were not created by and are not pursued, loved, and empowered by a bumbling wannabe superhero. It is not a wee, man made, gold statue that’s offering you a good grain harvest who sent his little brother to help you plow the fields and do a few odds and ends on your honey-do list. It is the King of Kings, the ha olam – Master of the Universe – who sent the Spirit of Truth to walk along side you through everything from the valley of the shadow of death to loving God without rivals.

Wow. Amen.

AP

It’s in There

“If the Lord delights in a man’s way,
    he makes his steps firm;
 though he stumble, he will not fall,
    for the Lord upholds him with his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)”

     OK, hermeneutical time out – a psalm is poetry, poetry is not a promise. However, throughout both Proverbs and Psalms are great nuggets of wisdom, insight into the character and nature of God, and a repletion of principles we can regard as “best practices” or “bet your 401K on it”. Are we tracking?

     Our family is at a very difficult crossroads right now. Over the weekend we were faced with a decision so big, I literally woke with a 6 hour headache and took two hours to write a 4 paragraph email. To say that we were mentally and emotionally taxed would be grossly understating things. Repeatedly, I found myself talking out loud to God, begging Him for either overall clarity or at least enough mental acuity to stir the pasta sauce on the stove – neither of which I felt any mastery over. There was nothing useful in my head. Just a pile of unorganizable, edgeless thoughts.

     I’m an external processor – my thoughts untangle themselves best outside my head, such as in discussion or writing. Saturday, I had no one I could talk to immediately who’d bring appropriate experience to the table and mere moments to move on some of the moving parts of the decision. I felt mentally stranded, struggling to find internal resources to bring to bear on the situation.

     On top of that, I had three toddlers running around the backyard, each asking me to play something different with them or screaming that one of the others wasn’t sharing. I felt as if I was holding a live bomb with both hands while having my legs pecked off by a chicken. “Lord, I’ve got nothing to add to the situation but my need for You. Help. Me. Please.”

     Out of respect for your time, I’ll skip to yesterday, when answers came – I opened a bible to Psalm 37 and began reading. If you’ve never had an experience where the words are jumping off the page, pray for one. It will blow… your… mind. With all the thoughts swarming through my head and all the background “noise” outside it, I have never experienced a moment where everything around me just seemed to stand still and the living word calmed my storm. I was flooded with encouragement (I mean, just read that thing!), perspective, counsel, and peace.

     Why does this matter to you?

     Glad you asked.

     The bible does not promise us a wrinkle free life. It does not promise that good things will only happen to good people and the wicked will fail in all of their evil endeavors. It’s never that cut and dried. You’re going to be lied to by people who believe wholeheartedly that if you’re not experiencing great prosperity and material abundance, it’s your fault and your faith is not strong enough. But, scripture speaks forcefully against this:
1 Thess 5:23-24:Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Faithful is He who calls you, and He also will bring it to pass.” God is in charge of outcomes and He will achieve His purposes

     Ultimately, the Lord upholds our hand. His plans, not ours apart from Him, will ultimately succeed. If calamity is on us, it is no surprise to Him and He can be trusted to bring us through it. We may fall, even fall off a cliff, hitting rocks and branches on the way down. This does not make scripture a liar. Remember, poetry is figurative literal, not word-for-word literal. In the end – after everything we try so desperately to preserve is turned to ash at the coming of the Lord and the new heavens and earth – we who are made righteous by the blood of Christ will have a “safe landing”.

     I’m not waxing eloquent today to tell you “God is in control” and leave you with that. I’m passing this on in hopes it will spark one of you to lean into God and beg him for the encouragement you need when you need it and to remind you “it’s in there”. God has not left us to wander without direction. He has sent the Holy Spirit to “come along side us” and comfort – one of the ways He does this is to illuminate scripture as we seek the living God who inspired it. Trust in the Lord, wring the truth out of His word. That’s why He put it there. That’s why He sent the Spirit.

in Christ,

AP

Maintaining Momentum – Forgetting Father’s Day?

Note:
Today’s post is longer than a minute. I won’t apologize. If you take the break required to watch the linked video and still read the whole post, we’re into about 7 or 8 minutes. If you only have a minute today, bookmark this and come back to it when you have four more minutes to watch and three more to read.

     Normally the week leading up to Christmas, I notice how cheery people are. Even some who wouldn’t consider themselves “church people” are wishing others well and forgiving things they’d otherwise harp on for days. It’s around that time I wish what you probably wish – “can’t we have the Christmas Spirit all year long?”

     But, we forget. Don’t we?

     We forget so quickly, that even a day after Veteran’s Day or Mother’s Day, we’re back to ignoring the vets or taking the Moms for granted again. This year, I’m going to prolong Father’s Day not because I’m a father, but because there is something about the Lord we need to remember “all year long”:


He invites us to call Him “Father”… not for a day, but for always.
I’ve got no verse for you today. Just read the Old Testament. Look at how many times “remember” and “Lord” appear together.

     Let me tell you a story to illustrate this.

     A son is wheelchair bound. Cerebral palsy – can’t talk, walk, etc., but through technology, can communicate via computer. Google “Team Hoyt” or “Rick & Dick Hoyt” when you can.

     The point for today is this: the son can’t run, bike, or swim, but His dad can – and at his son’s urging, went into training in his late 50s to do a 5K, and eventually a triathlon. This means he puts his crippled son in a raft and swims with son in tow, gets out of the water and onto a bike carrying his son in a seat on the bike, then runs, pushing a wheelchair that carries his son. For an Iron Man race, it’s a 2.5 mile swim, a 112 mile bike, and a 26.2 mile run – hard enough for one man to do on his own, but somehow this dad does them all for two.

     Father’s Day is a week behind us. Christmas is months away. Both can call us to reflect on our relationship with God in a unique and personal way. I’m not here to bother the single guys with thoughts of what it will be like, or isn’t yet like, to be a dad. I’m not here to challenge dads to “try harder”. My hope is that you’ll watch the video above and meditate on a couple of questions:

Q: What does the son really bring to the table when it comes to running an Iron Man Triathlon?
A: Could it be the same thing that you and I bring to the table when it comes to living righteously?

     It’s been said that the only thing we bring to the equation of our salvation is our need for a Savior. What do you think? Some of us suffer from the “liability of ability”: the more gifted we are the more we think we made it all happen. This only leads to self reliance. Smaller package than what God desires for us.

     In reality, we’re beggars telling other beggars where to get some bread. We’re quadriplegics being dragged, carried and pushed across the finish line of life. My favorite moment in this video is toward the end of the run where the son appears to be egging the crowd on as if to say “Look at my Dad! Give it up for my Dad!!!” His dad carried himself and his son through every mile of the race. What has God carried you through?

Humbled… How about you?

     What if it can be Father’s Day everyday, beneath the wings of the Father of all creation who loves us enough to reach out to us even we are enemies of the cross? For the rest of the year, can we do better than the “Christmas Spirit”? Can we have the Father’s Day Spirit all year long? Can we all, everyday, just shout “Look at my Dad!”?

Much love,

AP