Love in Action

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I’ve been thinking and studying this idea of love.  I have to say that I need to work on this area of my life.  I think most people would say they can do a better job of loving others.  But for most of us we don’t know what that looks like.  I work at a church so what I look to in order to learn and grow is God’s Word.  I was reading this today and it really struck me and challenged me.  I hope it does the same for you.  This is found in Romans 12:9-21 in the New Century Version of the Bible:

9 Your love must be real. Hate what is evil, and hold on to what is good. 10 Love each other like brothers and sisters. Give each other more honor than you want for yourselves. 11 Do not be lazy but work hard, serving the Lord with all your heart. 12 Be joyful because you have hope. Be patient when trouble comes, and pray at all times. 13 Share with God’s people who need help. Bring strangers in need into your homes.

14 Wish good for those who harm you; wish them well and do not curse them. 15 Be happy with those who are happy, and be sad with those who are sad. 16 Live in peace with each other. Do not be proud, but make friends with those who seem unimportant. Do not think how smart you are.

17 If someone does wrong to you, do not pay him back by doing wrong to him. Try to do what everyone thinks is right. 18 Do your best to live in peace with everyone. 19 My friends, do not try to punish others when they wrong you, but wait for God to punish them with his anger. It is written: “I will punish those who do wrong; I will repay them,”[a] says the Lord. 20 But you should do this:

“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him a drink.
Doing this will be like pouring burning coals on his head.” Proverbs 25:21–22

21 Do not let evil defeat you, but defeat evil by doing good.

Just that first sentence, your love must be real is enough for me today.  You can’t fake love.

Love is all about doing and taking action.  It’s about how we think about ourselves, others and God.  The best way we can worship God is by loving others well.

 

The One Thing That Will Improve All Your Relationships

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Relationships can be messy, difficult and yet incredibly rewarding.

There are many things that go into a healthy, vibrant relationship like marriage.  But I believe there is one vital ingredient to a long-lasting, healthy relationship: Patience.

In Galatians 5:22 – as part of the fruit of the Spirit we find patience: “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”.

Then in 1 Corinthians 13:4 – “Love is patient…”  The author Paul is talking about the true meaning of loving someone well and he starts with patience.  In Galatians he is talking about evidence in our lives that we are growing spiritually, and right in the middle is patience.

So let’s take a closer look at patience:

Patience is the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering, without getting angry or upset. 

Wow, that is impossible, but incredibly powerful.  Imagine if you could do that on a consistent basis.  Your life would be less stressful, you would be healthier and your influence with other people would go up.  So how do you do that?

  • Remind yourself that things take time. People who are impatient are people who insist on getting things done now and don’t like to waste time. However, some things just can’t be rushed. You have very little control over much in life.  You can choose to be patient though.
  • Think about your happiest memories. Chances are, they were instances when your patience paid off, like when you worked steadily toward a goal that wasn’t immediately gratifying, or took a little extra time to spend leisurely with a loved one. Would you have those memories if you had been impatient? Probably not.  Good things may not always come to those who wait, but most good things that do come don’t happen right away.
  • Remember what matters. Not focusing on what matters most in this life fuels impatience. Being kind, generous in forgiveness of others, being grateful for what is, and taking full advantage of what matters most helps you to be more patient. In other words don’t sweat the small stuff.
  • Work on having a positive outlook in life – Being positive is imperative to possessing a sense of patience. Believing the best about a person helps you be more patient and loving.  Remember that relationships are not a race, but a journey to be savored each step of the way.  If your naturally negative it will take more work to be patient, but it can change your life.
  • Expect the unexpected. Yes, you have plans, but things don’t always work out as planned. Accept the twist and turns in life gracefully. Keep your expectations realistic. This applies not only to circumstances, but also the behavior of those around you.
  • Stop holding yourself and the world around you to unattainable standards. Sure, we’d all be more patient if he would always listen, she would stop complaining, traffic flowed smoothly, and people didn’t make stupid decisions – but that’s never going to happen. Expecting the world to run smoothly is like beating your head against the wall. Give yourself and others a break!

The Benefits of Developing Patience

  1. Reduces stress levels and makes you a happier, healthier person.  When you learn and practice patience you don’t get as stressed or overwhelmed. You are more in control of your emotions and in a better position to deal with difficult situations with ease and poise.
  1. Results in better decision-making  When you’re patient you take the time to assess the situation, see the big picture, and weigh any pros and cons. The chances of making a big mistake lessen because you avoid making it in haste. Taking the time to problem solve and work out our conflicts requires patience and deliberation.
  1. Helps develop understanding, empathy and compassion.  You are automatically more understanding and compassionate with others when you yourself are patient. Patient people take the time to process what they go through and are able to determine what it takes to overcome obstacles so they are more understanding of others. This results in better, more fulfilling relationships with spouses, friends, children and bosses.
  1. Helps you understand and appreciate the process of growth.  As mentioned earlier anything worthwhile takes time and effort to achieve.  Planning, growth, evaluation and measurement all take time, and taking time takes patience. Just like a gardener has to be patient for things in the garden to grow, so we need to be patient with the people around us.

 Tips on How to Develop Patience

 

  1. Take a day where you make patience your goal for the entire day.  Make a concerted effort to take your time and think about everything you do, be mindful and live in the moment.  At the end of the day, observe all the ways in which you’ve made smarter decisions, got along better with others and actually understood what took place. Learn to do it on a daily basis. Developing patience is much like physical exercise because it requires persistence and effort.
  2. Slow down.  If you have the tendency to rush around and try to hurry things up, want things done immediately and can’t wait for things to take their natural course, STOP. Take several deep breaths before you act or make a move. For example, if you’re in a long lineup at the grocery store or in heavy traffic, make the decision to pause and not get worked up. Talk to God, listen to the radio, or just enjoy the view. Getting impatient won’t make things move along any faster, so why get worked up for nothing?
  3. Practice delaying gratification.  Instead of escaping to your familiar thing like watching TV, working out, reading, shopping, drinking or eating, work on the real issues and resolve conflict first.
  4. Practice thinking before you speak.  At times we blurt out the first thought that comes into our heads without considering the consequences. If we’re patient, pause and go over what we want to say, we can avoid hurting or offending others.

None of this is possible on a consistent basis without including God.  On our own we will fall short every time, yet we can plug into the power of God.  So in those moments when you do not want to be patient, a quick prayer asking for help can change everything.

One last thing, when someone is mistreating you or abusing you, patience should only apply with how you respond.  Not responding in a way that fuels the fire.  You should never simply take abuse.  Setting boundaries and consequences is important in those situations.  If your in an abusive relationship go get help and set clear boundaries.

Refocus Your Relationships

Fear Is A Liar

Last night I taught a class called Refocus Your Marriage.  Really it could be called Refocus Your Relationships.  I thought I would share a few of the opening comments I shared with that group.

Here are three important truths to remember:

  1. You are made for relationships – We are made to need relationships.  We all have three primary types of relationships:  With others, with ourselves and with God.  Each of those areas needs our attention and development.
  2. You are made with the capacity to Choose – God gave each of us the power to choose.  Choice equals change.  Making a choice is often difficult because it requires change, and that change can be threatening.  We choose how we react to everything around us.  We choose the thoughts we have and those thoughts lead to emotions and behaviors.  So in essence we can control our emotions and behaviors by the way in which we think.
  3. You are made to take responsibility for yourself – The only thing you have control over is yourself.  You get to choose how you think, what you think, what you say and what you do.  When you start to focus on yourself and how you can grow and change you will begin to make progress in your relationships.

I want to introduce you to the emotion that destroys relationships.  This has been going on for thousands of years since the beginning with Adam & Eve.  It has been destroying relationships and people very effectively.  At the core of every person is a button called fear.  That fear takes many shapes, things like fear of failure, fear of abandonment, fear of rejection, you name it.

From where does this fear come from?  Let’s take a look at the creation story with fresh eyes Genesis 2:17 – After God created Adam & Eve, he informed them about two special trees blossoming in the middle of the garden:  The tree of life and the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  Regarding the first he gave no commandment.  But the second he said “you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.”

Why did God create a perfect garden and then put these two trees right in the middle?  Why not outside the garden?  I think it was because he created us to depend on him, not living an autonomous life apart from him.  He gave that command to not eat of the tree so that we wouldn’t become self-sustaining and insist on stubborn control of our own lives.  He wanted us to daily choose to trust Him for everything we need.

I believe that command created a healthy fear in Adam & Eve, the fear of being separated from God.  It also created a fear of losing each other as well.  Well along comes Satan, or the Serpent and he plays on this fear.  “Did God really say, You must not eat from any tree in the garden?”  Eve replies exactly what God told them, we can eat from any tree in the garden  except the tree in the middle of the garden, you must not touch it or you will die.

“You will not surely die, serpent said to the woman.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.  My guess is that Eve thought that her fear of being separated from God was not true and therefore took the fruit.  This caused a whole new fear to take root.  This fear was unhealthy and destructive.  When Adam & Eve heard God walking in the garden they hid, because they were afraid.  There fear caused them to respond in a certain way.  After eating the fruit their response became unhealthy, defensiveness, blaming others.

Our relationships are much the same way.  We all have hurts from our past or guilt from us hurting someone else.  Those hurts and guilt drive the fear that drives our unhealthy behaviors.  That causes us to struggle to have healthy, happy relationships.  To learn more about this idea of fear and relationships read the book by Gary Smalley called “The DNA of Relationships”.

 

A Word to Husbands

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Relationships are hard and messy and most men are not good at developing healthy relationships.  Once we get married it is easy to sit back and focus on our work and providing financially or focusing on our own needs.  Most guys, myself included are selfish and we are not always thinking about how to love our wives or lead our household.

Peter talks about this in one of his letters that is part of the Bible.  Peter talks a lot about submission, respect, blessing and honor.  This is not only in marriage relationships but in all relationships.  He writes this after having spent a significant amount of time with Jesus.  After observing how Jesus treated other people he was able to write about how we should treat our bosses, our political leaders and our spouses.

I want to zero in on his comments to husbands.  in 1 Peter 3:7 he is talking to husbands, I like the Message version of the Bible which says “Be good husbands to your wives. Honor them, delight in them. As women they lack some of your advantages. But in the new life of God’s grace, you’re equals. Treat your wives, then, as equals so your prayers don’t run aground.”

He is calling husbands to live with their wives in an understanding way. We are to honor our wives and model submission and service. We are to initiate blessing, rather than retaliate when things go wrong.  Men are called to be spiritual leaders and that means we take responsibility for the health of our relationships.  This means we set the tone and we initiate what we want others to do.  Don’t wait for her to start treating you with respect before you make an effort to love and respect her.

The way we treat our wives will affect our spiritual health. It starts with us and how we respond to our wives.  The words we use, the things that we do, the time that we take, and the way that we listen.

Peter sums this up by saying this “Be agreeable, be sympathetic, be loving, be compassionate, be humble. That goes for all of you, no exceptions. No retaliation. No sharp-tongued sarcasm. Instead, bless-that’s your job, to bless. you’ll be a blessing and also get a blessing.”

Now I realize that we won’t always get it right and we will mess up.  We will do selfish things and say stupid things, but in order to love our wives we must keep pushing forward, trying to understand our wives and treat them as a precious gift.  Being humble means asking for and giving forgiveness on a regular basis.  The key is to not give up, keep trying to learn how to love your wife better, learn from your mistakes and above all else keep growing closer to God.  Only God can help you to love your wife the way you should.

 

 

How to Resolve Relational Crisis

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I spend a good bit of time with people that are in the midst of personal catastrophes.  Most are relational struggles, whether in a marriage, a family or at work.  The health of our relationships are an indicator of the health of ourselves.

Whenever I am meeting with someone that is going through a relational struggle, I always try to bring it back to the person I am talking with.  There is not much in life that we can control, but when it comes to ourselves, we do have a choice in what we do, think, say and believe.

For someone that has a broken relationship, it always starts with yourself.  It is easy to look at those around you and blame their behavior, attitude or hurtful actions for why things are so bad.  Yet that will never resolve the issue or change the circumstances.  It always starts in your own heart.  It starts with your own character.  Your character is who you really are.  It will reflect how much you accomplish in life and how well you love yourself and others.

Your character is the internal script that you follow in response to conflict, mistreatment, pain and even success.  When that script is focused on yourself and preserving or getting what you want, the actions that follow will usually dig the hole even deeper or add fuel to the fire.  Part of our character is the defense mechanism’s we have developed over the years in dealing with conflict and pain.  It might be sarcasm, humor, withdrawing/silent treatment, yelling/escalating or even going into fix it mode.

Changing that internal script is hard work, yet it is the only way to work through a relational crisis.  It starts by taking personal responsibility for what you contributed and how you have reacted.  Then it involves the hard work of self-actualization, seeing yourself, your reactions, your character and your beliefs and where you are off course.  This is hard work and will take the help of God and other people.  It means being humble enough to ask for help and to admit your mistakes.  When you get on your knees and ask God to change your heart and character, that is when the rough edges start to get smoothed out.  It will take time, perseverance, patience and practice, but you can change.

Working on yourself is one of the most productive things you can do in order to be successful in life.  Take the time and energy to get healthy emotionally, to work through the hurts and hang-ups from your past.  Take time to grow in your faith and connect more with God and involve him in every area of your life.  Take time to build trust with yourself and others and work on relational skills like listening, asking questions, asking for and extending forgiveness.

The best thing you can do for any relationship in your life is to be healthy emotionally, spiritually, relationally and physically.  In a relational crisis the way in which you respond will either add fuel to the fire or add water to the fire.  How you respond is a reflection of your character.  The choice is always yours.