Archive for the ‘family’ Category

Yesterday, I began a series on Palmer’s Rules For Dating. The Rules are generally, but not totally, geared toward young women and are designed to produce a healthy dating life, which will hopefully become a fulling, life-long marriage. Yesterday we talked about young men and today we turn our attention to a powerful impediment to healthy dating: The SoulMate Myth!

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Perhaps the most insidious idea in the dating world is The SoulMate Myth.

Here’s how the soulmate myth goes: There is one person that God has uniquely designed for you to meet, date, fall in love and live happily ever after with. When I was in school at Abilene Christian, girls shared an old-wives tale about an artery in your ring finger that lead to your heart and that’s why you wore your wedding ring on that finger. The boy who placed the ring on your finger was the one person God meant for your heart. 

Hogwash! I’m not a doctor or the son of a doctor (unless a Ph.D, counts), but I really hope all my arteries wind their way back to my heart!

More to the point, and to be clear: You don’t have a soulmate! There’s is not one, single person carved out in the universe custom made for you. Just because nearly everything in America is customizable, it doesn’t mean people come that way.

Just think about the anxiety you would feel if you really believed that! Did you meet them in elementary school and put sand in her hair? Was he or she sitting next to you at a concert and you never managed the courage to speak to him or her? Were you supposed to meet them at that Sunday night youth devo that you skipped because you were trying to finish your homework? With 300 Billion people in the world, you’d have to wonder about a God would send you looking for that small a needle in that large a haystack. As a matter of fact, a God who did that might be described as kinda cruel. And if you had to go on a hard target search like that, what time would you have for anything else? I mean, how much time can you spend on ChristianSingles.com?

Yet people believe it. They walk around thinking they’ve married their soulmate or “the right person” and they’re happy about it…until they’re not. They get married, hit some bumps in the road, find comfort in the company another man or woman, or in just being alone and suddenly they say to themselves, “I married they wrong person.”

The truth is that there is no single right-person. Instead, you should be looking for the right-kind-of-person. This right-kind-of-person is found in 1 Corinthians 13. Rochelle and I enjoy a great marriage, but both of us acknowledge that either of us could have had a great marriage with a number of people given that those persons were committed to the same things we are committed to; faith, hope, love, divorce never being an option, and the primacy of Jesus. Certainly it would be different, but marriage isn’t sustained by chemistry; it’s sustained by commitments. In turn, commitments give rise to chemistry, but what many people call chemistry is pretty much lust! As Rochelle’s father told me during my engagement, “If you stay committed to Jesus, you’ll stay committed to Rochelle.”

So, how do you find the right-kind-of-person? It’s simple. You become the right-kind-of-person! Psalm 42 reminds us that “deep calls to deep;” like things are drawn to like things. If you want a person who is patient, kind, not envious, isn’t jealous, etc…you need to become that kind of person. So guess what, if you’re dating a jerk…look in the mirror.

You have think about your own behavior and character like a virus, a good virus. Some people will be susceptible to the virus, they’ll be open and non-resistant to the right kind of love and care. Other people’s system will fight the virus, reject it. Let them. If you’re becoming the right kind of person yourself, the right kind of person will be inspired and drawn to you (this works for friendship, as well). The wrong kind of people will try to inject their antidote of impatience and selfishness into your system. Get rid of them! Quickly! They are a cancer that will eat away at your own health unless you eradicate it!

Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.” When it comes to dating and marriage, I say, “Be the person you want to spend the rest of your life with.” There’s not haystack that way.

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Last Thursday evening I participated in the Common Ground Speaker Series which my daughter’s school supports. The evening’s speaker was Dr. Ned Hallowell. Harvard and Tulane educated, Dr. Hallowell specializes in  advice on how to survive in an ultra-competitive, ultra fast, attention deficit society while remaining sane, how to raise happy children, the art of forgiveness and how to manage worry. His topic for the night found it’s genesis in his book, Crazy Busy: Overstretched, Overbooked and About to Snap!

Hallowell covered some much already traveled territory discussing the affects of the Internet, social media, cell phones and all other things technology. While this terrain is well-trodden, I think, he’s dead-on concerning the negative effects of “labor-saving” devices. What’s more, Hallowell points out that our time interfacing with screens isn’t only sucking our time and energy, it is also rewiring our brains. This could be good or bad. Who knows? At best, we are entering new territory.

The truth is that as we spend more time engaging socially – like reading blogs, etc… – we are spending less time with one another. We trust “friends” and “followers” we’ve never met with extraordinary personal information, while simultaneously not know the name of our neighbors. Worse still, we run the risk of marginalizing or ignoring the family in our midst.

Hallowell reminds us of two important and basic actions that many of us would be wise to regain:

1. Decide what matters most. Preaching a principle I learned from Andy Stanley years ago, I recently spoke on the topic of deciding what matters most and then shaping our action around them. Implicit in deciding is following up that decision with determined action so that our lives actual reflect what we say.

2. Recreate Boundaries. I am frequently shocked when I see the boundaries people have given up. This is especially true, I think, for Christians. Our willingness to be useful and used, for many, has resulted in sacrificing time and energy to our family. This is tantamount to abandoning our family.

Ultimately, I think Hallowell has much to say, but I’m not doing a book review. I’m just raising your attention to the importance of slowing down your life in order to maximize your impact with those closest to you. As a friend of mine says, “You can’t do anything well in a hurry.”

As a congregant you have a significant role to play in helping your preacher preach better. In the last post, we talked a little about time and the effect lack of time can have on sermon preparation. Think about this: After Seinfeld went off television, Jerry Seinfeld decided to retire all his old stand-up material (watch the movie, “Comedian”). He spent the next year crafting a new act. After a year, Seinfeld had 30-minutes worth of material. That’s right ONE YEAR! 30 MINUTES!

Guess what? Your preacher does 30 minutes every week!

Could he or she do less? Probably. But here’s my point: Many of us have been in church so long that we’ve forgotten or never understood what we were asking of our preacher in terms of the speech act itself. Your preacher, unlike Jerry Seinfeld, can’t simply use the same “material” over and over again and be effective. Also, read the sermons in the book of Acts. They are strikingly similar and mercifully short. Churches, however, asks their minister to speak a fresh word every week and sometimes to speak multiple fresh words throughout the week. Hear me correctly, this isn’t a preacher complaining about his job. Complaining is fruitless. It is, however, one preacher asking you to help your preacher preach better by understanding what they are up against. And here’s how:

1. Prayer – Seems obvious, but I’ve known preachers who were cursed more than they were prayed for. The prayers won’t just changed the preaching, it’ll change your heart about the preacher.

2. Feedback – Preachers are generally narcissist who are very self-conscious. (No worries, God made them this way in order to stand before great multitudes each week AND care about what’s coming out of their mouths.) But they are also overwhelmingly concerned about doing what they can to help your life and your relationship with God. When giving feedback, tell them what you LIKED, what was meaningful. Trust me, like a professional golfer walking off the 18th green, preachers know every shot they missed and where their swing was flawed. If you want more of something from your preacher, praise it. He or she is human-being, they’ll respond.

3. Force Time Away – Good preachers work all the time, they even work when they’re not supposed to be working. If you want to nurture your preacher, send them and their spouse away for a weekend. Be insistent and do what you can to make that happen. Sometimes that means paying for it yourself or with a group. You’re not paying for it because your preacher is broke, but because they’ll be less likely to turn it down if it’s paid for already.

4. Be Friends – Ask around, many preachers don’t have friends. You can be a friend. Just imagine what it would be like to stand in front of a crowd of people each week and having them ALL want something from you. It’s tiring. Try taking your preacher to a ball game, out to the movies, or to play cards. Just him or her, not their entire family, and build a genuine relationship. Here’s the inside scoop, when preachers get overtures from other churches, one of the overwhelming reasons they stay put, is friends.

You’ll notice that all the ways to help your preacher are relational, not technical. I bet relational connectedness is his or her greatest felt need. The best preachers I’ve known felt relationally connected to their congregation. They didn’t just look connected – which is different. They felt connected. Here’s the thing: There’s only one way to find out if your preacher feels connected and loved rather than looks connected and loves, you have to ask them.

BE HAPPIER!!

Posted: July 27, 2010 in church, family, leadership
I think you’d like to be happier. Regardless of your current level of content, nearly everyone I’ve ever known would like to be happier than they are. Recently, I heard researcher, Richard Florida discuss some emerging trends among younger professionals. In a discussion with some young adults after Florida’s presentation, his findings appeared to be true. I know they are true for me — if not in practice, they are at least true in desire. Ruminating on Florida and with a H/T to his books, “The Great Reset” and “Who’s Your City”, I’ve come up with 4 steps you can make to increase your personal happiness.
1.  Move Closer to Where You Work. When we lived in Houston, I burned 2 hours a day on I-10. Not only did this cost me precious time with my family, it could have cost me my life. The drive was so long and motionless, and after a tiring day, I’m confident I fell asleep behind the wheel several times. Currently, I live in a house that’s not nearly as nice as my previous home, but I was committed to walking or riding my bike to work. I’ve gained 2-hours a day with my kids, plus I walk to work, and my neighbor’s — whom God insists that I love — know me and see me daily.
1. A.(Or Move Your Work Closer to You) Don’t hesitate to ask your boss for flexibility (work-at-home, a 4-day/10hr per day work  week, etc…) and freedom (to begin new projects or work on something outside your job description, but something you’re interested in). As a boss I can attest, if a co-worker is producing and behaves professionally, you’ll almost always get a “Yes.”
2.  Find Meaningful Work. If you’re just collecting a paycheck (which is a big deal these days), you need to find a way to add meaning to your work. That doesn’t always mean quitting your current job and traipsing off to something new. It may mean being reassigned or       re-tasked in your organization. It could also mean finding a local non-profit to partner with. Simple fact: If you don’t have meaning in your work, you’ll burn out, hate your job and everyone there, and eventually end up hating yourself and your life.
3.  Invest In Relationships. This needs to be both real and virtual. Facebook, Twitter, and FourSquare have their place, but you need to meet with the same people regularly. I suggest getting involved in a small group or ministry in a local church. All people need connection — deep connection — to live their best existence. One of the first things people say when a celebrity gets arrested or finds themselves ensconced in a scandal is this: “Where were there friends?” Find them, use them, you need them.
4.  Buy Smaller Stuff, If You Buy At All. We didn’t have a large house when we lived in Houston and we deliberately moved into a smaller home when we moved to California (which wasn’t difficult). Anyhow, a smaller house means less time spent paying for and cleaning-up a larger home. The average American family is smaller than it ever has been. Cell phones and laptops tout how small they are. The only things getting bigger are bellies, TV’s and houses. And guess what? Most of us don’t need all that space. We’re whittling our lives away — money, time, etc… — getting BIGGER things that we don’t need. At the very least we can buy the nano version of optional items.

Tiger Woods may have attended Stanford, but the past two weeks have proven how stupid he really is. I like Tiger Woods and believe him to be the greatest golfer of all time, whether he tracks down Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 professional Majors or not. Tiger is the best at what he does, but as we learned from Michael Jordan, being the best in a sport has very little to do with being good in the rest of life.

What’s odd is that we think it does. When I was a youth minister, I frequently told students that one of the best ways they could witness for God was by being good at what they did. Colt McCoy, Hunter Lawrence, Jordan Shipley and Tim Tebow are examples of this. By performing with excellence in one area, our very lives are granted credence in the minds others. It’s only natural that people believe that the excellent are excellent. But that’s not always the case. Through all the fist pumps, chest bumps, sunk putts and kicked rumps, we continue to find that our “heroes” are anything but.

Here’s El Tigre, the worlds most recognizable person, complete with a yacht named “Privacy” slinking around, hooking up with cocktail waitresses and pornstars – allegedly – and thinking, presumably, that he wouldn’t get caught; that no one would find out. You’ve got to be kidding!

That’s just plain stupid.

He was bound to get caught.

But it’s the best thing that could have happened to Tiger Woods.

Why? Because of Steve McNair and Michael Jackson.

Last summer, former NFL great Steve McNair was found shot by his girlfriend. A married man, McNair was having an affair with Shalel Kazemi, a 20-year old, who murdered him in his sleep before turning the gun on herself. (In case you didn’t know, if someone continues to hook up with a string of women who do not care that he is married, he will run across one who is crazy!) That’s what happened to McNair, whose girlfriend feared he was leaving her, and that would have eventually happened to Woods. It’s unlikely that it would have ended in murder, but it almost certainly would have been worse than bad press and a re-written pre-nuptial agreement.

And we all know the disturbing tragedy of Michael Jackson. Something dismaying happens to people when we are too tightly insulated. That was the case with Jackson and has been the case with Woods. No healthy person can exists in a world of yes men and staff rather than friends and mentors. Woods – due to our incessant desire to know everything about everyone – had created his own kingdom, perhaps with Elin and his own mother as the only citizens by choice, the only ones who wanted him for him and not cash or celebrity.

This has been his greatest weakness. Tiger has fired caddies and coaches for doing commercials and giving too many interviews. In Tiger’s world, it’s Tiger’s way or the highway. In fact, Tiger’s mom once reportedly told a former girlfriend of his, “There’s only one star in this family. Tiger.” That’s the problem. Everyone needs people in their life to tell us the truth, to remind us that the world, in fact, does not revolve around us and folks like Woods are woefully short of them.

The titillating headlines concerning the train wreck Woods’ life has become over the past two weeks, present Tiger an opportunity. If he can resist the urge to be handled or save face, he can come clean with himself. No one besides Elin needs an apology or explanation. Tiger has the chance, right now, to rewrite who he is, not to resurrect his shattered image, but become a new man. Right now, Tiger can take a big swing.

Deal with your issues, Tiger, – because it’s clear to everyone now that you have them. Become a better father to your kids (good dads don’t cheat on mom). Stop sporting for gullible, star-struck women, using them as objects, and stop doing whatever else you’ve got going on under the surface. Become a man who is honest, friendly, open, humble, straightforward, less the golf machine and more an authentic man. Just think what Jackson’s life could have been had he a chance to be more Michael and less icon. Today Tiger’s life has a chance to be genuine, something, I think, at the end of life, he would much more enjoy than the coat-check girl.

This is a reprint of a post I wrote several years ago. It has been updated since its original posting. Each Advent I read and re-post it here. It is my favorite piece, of all the things I’ve ever written. It continues to challenge me every Advent

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A friend of mine was walking through his neighborhood a few weeks before Christmas years ago. Living in Houston it never gets too cold so walks in December aren’t unusual. Anyway, as he approached one house, he noticed the Nativity in the front yard. Everything was in its place; shepherds, wise men, Mary, Joseph, and manger. Only inside the manger was the baby Jesus wearing a Santa Claus hat; fur-lined, red, and with that cool looking white ball thingy at the top. My friend points out that that’s the problem with Christmas – many of us cannot see the difference between who Jesus was, what He taught and did, and the unhinged, consumeristic fervor of America’s most gluttonous season.

It all begs the question: What should we be thinking and doing at Christmas?

Before a renaissance in my own thinking over the last 7 years, Christmas was essentially about getting the stuff that I wanted, the presents under the tree.  A good Christmas meant I got what I wanted and the sweet potato pie was tasty.  It had nothing to do with Jesus.  In my religious tradition we simply did not celebrate Christmas as a religious event.

It was purely secular!

I remember asking my sixth grade Sunday school teacher, Larry, why we didn’t celebrate Christmas and Easter, and why we paid absolutely no attention to the Christian calendar.  No Pentecost! No Advent! Nothing!  Larry told me that no one knew the exact dates of those events so to celebrate them on the dates proposed was outside what we knew from the Bible.  That’s true, I suppose.  However, I also knew that my grandmother, as a black woman born shortly after the turn of the 20th century in Mississippi, had no birth certificate and no one could remember her exact birth date, but she still got older each year and we still acknowledged her life. I applaud Larry and the church of my youth for being concerned about what the Scriptures say, but at the end of the day it taught me that Christmas was about the same thing that Fisher-Price and Mattel wanted Christmas to be about: The stuff!

That teaching has been hard to shake!

Each year as Thanksgiving rolls around, I know that there are very few things that I need. A new pair of pants, some new shoes, maybe, but nothing alluring – no iPhones or new cars.  I tell myself that I don’t need anything, don’t want anything, and that I won’t ask for anything, but I can never keep up with my plans.  Suddenly newer things start shining, old things seem, well, old and in need of replacement.  Those things that seemed like nice hobbies to start “one day” turn into imperatives that need me to invest in them immediately.  So I end up needing, asking and wanting more. Thank goodness for Christmas sales.

Before I know it, this time of year, this Advent season in which the church is to anticipate the coming of Jesus into the world, this time when we are to be looking to the Heavens with expectation about the healing of the world, and the healing of our broken relationships with each other, and our broken relationship with God has somehow become a dime store smash and grab to see what stuff we can make off with.

Have you ever had that experience? Am I the only one?

Recently, I was thinking about my Christmas coveting and reading about Francis of Assisi (these are not two things you should do simultaneously).  Francis was born the son of a wealthy merchant and had visions of becoming a superior fighter. After an illness, however, he began to experience deep religious feelings.  He would go off by himself to pray, wear ragged clothes and give away money from the family business to the poor.  As you might imagine, this made his father a little – um, irritated!  His father took Francis to court and asked that the Bishop force him to give back all the money Francis had given to the poor.  Equally as irritated as his father, Francis stripped off all his clothes, hurled them toward his father and walked out of the court proclaiming that he would only now speak of his Father in Heaven.

From that point, Francis renounced materialism.  Over time, Francis founded several mendicant – which is fancy word for “beggar” – religious orders.  Unlike other orders, Francis and his followers rejected not only individual property, but also communal and collective property.  In short, they had no stuff!  For Francis, poverty was not an end in itself, but a means of aligning with Jesus, the disciples, and the gospel by direct imitation. Jesus owned nothing. Francis owned nothing.  One of Francis’ biographer/followers wrote: “While this true friend of God completely despised all worldly things, he detested money above all.  From the beginning of his conversion, he despised money particularly and encouraged his followers to flee from it always as from the devil himself. He gave his followers this observation: money and manure are equally worthy of love.”

Might we imagine spending Christmas at St. Francis’ house this year?

I wonder what this patron saint of animals and the environment who married “Lady Poverty” for the sake of the gospel, might say about “Black Friday” – the day after Thanksgiving – when Americans sleep outside department stores to get the first look at sales.  Or what might he offer to a Christian community that essentially sees and treats Jesus like Santa Claus?  Perhaps he would feel uncomfortable with the fact that American Christians, who by and large have too much stuff already, spend the season of Advent concerned about getting more stuff.

Perhaps St. Francis might tweak our practice of Christmas a little.  Maybe he would say that during Advent and Christmas, we shouldn’t focus on our riches but our poverty.  Of course, there are a lot of us who give to good causes year round, but that’s not the only kind of poverty I’m talking about.

I’m also talking about real poverty – spiritual poverty.

I’m talking about the way many Christians display no demonstrative difference in their character than non-Christians.  I’m thinking about Christians who proclaim love for the powerless babe in the manger, but spend each breath of their existence trying to beg, borrow, steal and deal for more power for themselves.  I’m speaking of pastors and church leaders who have no vision for the communities they serve and no love for the sheep of their flock, looking only to the church for what they can get from them.  I’m concerned about people who are made miserable through their own self-concern. And I’m talking about those of us who fundamentally believe that something other than God will finally or ultimately make us healthy and whole.  We are all so deeply, deeply poor.

And that’s why we need to visit friend Francis this year.  We need to strip it all off and look only to our Father in heaven.  If we don’t we will continue to look around the next corner, over the next bend, and under every rock for that “thing” we think will make us whole.  Yet we will certainly not find it.

5 Tips to Success

Posted: November 4, 2009 in family, leadership, life

I’m always on the look out for what successful and productive people do to be and become successful and productive. I seek out these habits – like arising early – as a means to drink from the marrow of life and get as much from my short time on earth, both for myself and for the Kingdom of God, as possible. Here are 5 tips I’ve found helpful hopefully, they’ll be helpful to you too.

  1. Turn off the T.V. Successful people don’t plop down in the easy chair every night and let cable T.V. wash over them. They are engaged from the moment they arise until they go to sleep. Whether at work, with friends, with their children or spouse, just about anywhere, successful people want to live a life, not watch one. Television is a black hole. Here’s what I suggest: Pick out a few shows – 2 or 3 – per week that you like. Set your DVR or TIVO to record them and plan a time to sit down and watch. You can even save up episodes for a marathon viewing or perhaps when you’re sick or need a “mental health” day. Beginning on Sunday, I don’t sit down to watch a T.V. show until Thursday night. I watch The Office and 30 Rock. On Friday night, Rochelle put the girls to bed, hop into our PJ’s and watch DVR’d episodes of Glee. That’s all we watch, except the occasional football game, which is also DVR’d – which saves me at least 30-45 minutes of commercials. Time in front of the tube can be spent with other people, studying, working on cause you care about, or reading something to keep yourself educated, up to speed, and growing.
  2. Never lie to yourself. Don’t lie about where you are (health, financial, education, with God, business, etc…). If you know your organization, personhood, spiritual life or family is in an unsustainable situation, lying won’t help. In order to be successful a leader must be brutally honest about his or her failings, as well as those of their organization. Unfortunately, the higher you are on the organizational chart, the less likely it is that you will hear the most useful criticism. As a Senior Minister, I hear feedback about nearly everything in the organization…except myself. I have to look past my ego and get real with what I’m doing. Make a commitment to be honest and instill this commitment as a value throughout your organization.
  3. Listen To The Criticism that You Do Get. Instead of rehashing my thoughts on criticism, I’ll refer you these 2  previous post.
  4. Become a Lifetime Learner. As the saying goes, “leaders are readers.” I am consistently reading 3 books. One having to do with spiritual/theological life, one about leadership and organizations, and one for fun. This is in addition to what I’m reading for preaching/teaching and anything I’m writing. Ideas actually don’t fall from the sky; they are sparked – typically by reading and intellectual engagement. I’ve learned from the men and women I’ve considered successful that a lifetime of learning is the key to success.
  5. Plan, plan, and plan. Many people never accomplish their goals because they never planned to. I use a personalized form of Michael Hyatt’s Master Task List to set my agenda for the month before a to-do list for each week. Every day I review and make more plans. You can’t do anything well that you do in a hurry or at the last minute. Maybe my life is over-planned. But most days, I feel as though I’ve served God, my congregation, my wife and family and my dreams well.

There you have it, a few keys to success that I’ve learned for people who are actually successful. But I don’t want to leave you without this bonus note. Success comes to those who do it! Don’t be jealous of other authors if you’ve never sat down and forced yourself to write. Don’t envy the minister with a growing congregation if you don’t have the guts to make the necessary decisions. Don’t poke fun at the physically affectionate family if you’ve never put the kind of time and energy into your family life that produces closeness and trust. If you want to do something, DO IT! Many of the people you and I know to be “successful” are considered successful because they stepped out and did it, while everyone else waited to see.