Emotions & Spiritual Growth.

I am currently reading a book call “I Quit” by Geri Scazzero.  I am about half way through it and am being challenged in many ways.  I highly recommend the book.  This quote really jumped out to me and I wanted to share it.

“It doesn’t matter how much you read your Bible, do good works, go to church, serve others, or know about God.  If you are not honest about your true feelings, you will be stunted in your spiritual growth with God and limited in your relationships.”

The three emotions she drills down on are anger, sadness and fear.  Many Christians try to hide these emotions because we have been taught that they are bad.  In reality these emotions are very important for us to understand and acknowledge.  If we don’,t all of our relationships are impacted in a negative way and we can slip into putting on our everything is OK face when everything is not OK.  When we face reality and the reasons we are angry, sad or fearful we can begin to chip away at the hurts, hangups and habits that cause these emotions.  We can start to see what is missing in our lives that has contributed to these emotions popping up.  We can begin to grieve the losses we have experienced.

So what feelings are you having that you are embarrassed about or that you think you should not be having?  If you are courageous enough to face your inner self head on and open up to a trusted friend, mentor or counselor, real freedom and growth will result.

10 Ways to Build Solid Relationships

There is a saying that I love, that I first heard from author and speaker John Maxwell.  “People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.”  As a leader I can never separate leadership from relationships.  Leaders need to develop relational skills in order to lead the people around them.  One of the questions I often ask myself is how likeable are you?  Do people like being around you?  All of us can work on being a better person and improving our relationships with people.  Relationships are messy, yet necessary because we were created for relationships.

In the book of Romans in the Bible I came across ten instructions that Paul gives us that will help us get along with other people.  These instructions come from Romans 12:9-21:

  1. Avoid Hypocrisy – When you say something and then do something else it sends the message that you are not trustworthy.  When you are sincere and genuine and your actions line up with your words, your relationships benefit tremendously.
  2. Be Loyal – Paul calls us to treat each other people like brothers and sisters.  Even though siblings will fight with each other sometimes there is a bond because of being family.  Being loyal means showing kindly affection to those around you.  Supporting and standing up for them in good times and bad.
  3. Give Preference to Others – This means to honor the desires of others above your own.  The more selfish you are the weaker your relationships become.
  4. Be Hospitable – When you look for ways to meet the needs of others it builds trust and friendship.  Being generous with what God has given you instead of holding those things tightly helps you to be more hospitable.  Working at making the people around you comfortable and cared for takes a mindset of wanting to serve others.
  5. Return Good for Evil – What Paul is saying here is to act, don’t react when others hurt you.  Many times your natural tendency is to react with hurtful words or actions when you get hurt.  That only further damages the relationship.  You should not be passive though and need to act by communicating in a loving way how that hurt you.  Proverbs 15:1 says “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
  6. Identify with Others – This means to empathize with others.  To treat others’ needs or victories as your own.  When you can put yourself in their shoes without judging, it shows how much you care.  It also will help you to better understand where they are coming from.
  7. Be Open-minded toward Others – Trying to connect with anyone you speak to takes the ability to be genuinely interested in the other person.  Approach each encounter as an opportunity to learn more about this person and their story.  Ask questions and really listen.
  8. Treat Everyone with Respect – When you treat people with respect it is a compliment to them.  This can be done by how you listen, the non-verbal messages you send and by not being judgmental.  Even if you do not agree with the person or their behavior it is important to show respect and love them unconditionally.  Remember you can’t change anyone, only God can do that.
  9. Do Everything Possible to Keep Peace – This does not mean to avoid conflict, but to work through conflict and to choose wisely which hills to die on.  Paul says, “If it is possible, as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”  This means that the decisions we make should lead to forgiveness and reconciliation in our relationships as much as possible.
  10. Remove Revenge from Your Life – This means to let God judge others; you are to love them!

On our own, we cannot do this on a consistent basis.  That is why it is so important to be connected with God, who can give us everything we need to have thriving, healthy relationships.  It starts by making the decision to accept Jesus Christ as the leader of your life and the forgiver of your sins.  After that we have a special connection with God through the Holy Spirit that is available as a constant help to live life to the fullest.  Living life to the fullest means having the best possible relationships in our lives.  Ask God to help today to live out these ten things in all your relationships.  Over time hurts will be healed and hearts will be repaired and peace and joy will be more evident in all your relationships.

What’s Feeding Your Mind?

Over the past several years my wife and I have changed some of our behaviors as it relates to food and exercise.  We decided that we wanted to lose weight and keep it off in order to feel and look better.  We started slow by getting on a system that taught us how to eat right.  It wasn’t a diet, it was a training system.  We had to relearn how to eat the right portions and the right kinds of food.  We had to start thinking about how many servings of each kind of food we would eat each day.  We also had to think about movement and motivation.  Incorporating exercise into our lives and finding out what would motivate us to do this the rest of our lives.  So we changed our behavior by changing our thinking and we changed our thinking by learning the truth and applying it to our lives.

So what is influencing your thinking right now?  What are you feeding your mind that is influencing how you think and therefore how you behave?  What’s feeding your marriage?  What’s feeding your parenting?  What’s feeding your relationship with God?  What’s feeding your work life?  What’s feeding your finances?  What if the things that are feeding our minds are lies?  If the sources of what we feed our minds is not truth, then our beliefs and behaviors can be destructive to our well being and relationships.  What are you doing now that is hurting your marriage, your leadership at work, your relationship with your kids, your relationship with God?  Often times we do what we have learned from others and many times that is filled with lies and half truths.  If you really want to transform your marriage, your parenting, your leadership, your intimacy with God or your physical health, it starts with a training program.  You need to start to go to the right sources to feed your mind in these areas.

Some of those sources include God’s Word, wise men and women, books from experts on marriage, parenting and relationships that follow Biblical principles.  Whatever you want to transform, you must first transform your thinking by learning the truth and apply it to your life.

Six Communication Tips for Healthy Relationships

Having healthy relationships in our lives is vital, yet many people do not have many close, vibrant relationships.  The way in which we communicate with people often determines how healthy that relationship becomes.  Communication also determines how close we allow people into our lives.  Communicating on an emotional level is difficult, but critical.  Especially in the marriage relationship, listening with the heart paves the way to deeper intimacy.  Here are six ways to work on that and instantly improve your most important relationships.

  1. Listen beyond the words to the feelings – People’s emotions tell the real story of what is going on.  If you focus on only what is being said, you may miss a much greater message.  People generally feel more understood, cared for, and connected when the communication focuses on their emotions and feelings rather than merely on their words or thoughts.  The approach should be that we really care about what the other person is feeling about the topic being discussed.  This may mean that we need to ask questions about their feelings instead of the words that were spoken.
  2. The real message is often the emotions behind the words – When this is done well, it communicates that we really do care about the other person and are not just trying to win an argument.  When we take each interaction as an opportunity to learn more about the other person it sets us up for success.  This can be a difficult thing to do, especially for guys, so some trial and error will need to take place as this is practiced.
  3. Allow others’ emotions to touch you – People feel loved when they know you truly understand their feelings.  They don’t care that we may have a solution for the problem as much as we understand how they feel.  When we actually acknowledge the emotion they are expressing it helps them to feel more understood.
  4. Effective communication is a dynamic process of discovery that maintains energy in the relationship – Again if we view communication as a dynamic discovery process instead of a problem solving time it will improve our relationships immensely.  Sometimes just asking if the other person is looking for solutions to the problem or just a time to express frustration can help how that conversations goes.  This kind of communication will bring new energy to the relationship, because it is touching them at a heart level not just a mind level.
  5. Effective communication starts with safety – When we listen rather than judge or correct, we create a safe environment for understanding to take place.  One of our primary responsibilities is to create a safe place for the other person to express their heart.  That cannot happen unless the other person trusts that we have their best interest at heart and are truly concerned about them.  In a marriage, there will be an emotional wall if there is not trust and they do not feel safe to share on an emotional level.  That wall is a way of protecting their emotions and will only come down when they feel safe.
  6. Communication is understanding, not determining who’s right – All of our relationships will thrive if our priority is understanding the other person instead of fixing the other person.

So start working on your emotional communication skills right now by focusing on the emotions behind the words.  Approach each conversation as an opportunity to learn more about what makes that person tick and what is important to that person.

Amazing Lessons From Peter

As a leader, I must constantly be working on myself.  Leader’s that stop growing, quickly start declining and losing influence.  A great example of someone growing as a leader is Peter, one of the 12 disciples that followed Jesus.  Focus and self-discipline provide the foundation for solid leadership.  Peter learned this lesson the hard way.  Over a three and a half year period, God transformed Peter from a cocky, loud influence to a thoughtful, humble leader.  As I read in 1 Peter, one of his letter to the Christian Jews, he gives three directives in this area of focus and self-discipline:

  1. Guard Your Mind – Peter reminds us to put boundaries around what we allow into our minds.  What we allow in will influence us and deceive us.  Filling our minds with truth helps us to guard it from the lies that are all around us.  Peter tells us to remain focused and sober.
  2. Guard Your Hearts – He also reminds us that we need to prevent old patterns from penetrating our hearts.  He warns us about the former lusts, which can not only distract us, but can destroy us.
  3. Guard Your Lifestyle – Peter tells us to pursue holiness.  The only way to do that is to follow and embrace the model Christ gave.  Since God is holy, we should copy what we see Him doing.

Peter also talks a good bit about sacrifice and submission.  He tells us to respect and submit to authorities, regardless of how the authorities might treat those they are over.  He reminds us that God places all people in authority for His plans and His purpose.  Peter reminds us in chapter two about the sacrifice that Jesus made for all of us.  He suffered greatly and died for us.  Here is how Jesus responded to the insults, mockery, physical beatings, false accusations and carrying all our sin:

  1. Did not retaliate, but kept silent
  2. Made no threats
  3. No deceit came from his mouth
  4. Fully entrusted himself to the Father (God)

Peter also does a nice job of addressing husbands and wives.  No home can thrive without functioning according to sound spiritual leadership principles:

  • First he challenged wives to submit to their husbands, even those who do not submit to Christ.
  • When the wife submits even though she opposes her husbands decision, she gives a powerful witness to Christ and brings a special honor to Him.
  • Husbands are called to live with their wives in an understanding way.
  • Husbands are to honor their wives and model submission and service.
  • Husbands are to initiate blessing, rather than retaliate when things go wrong.
  • Husbands and wives need to assume responsibility for the health of their relationships, which means setting the tone.  To set the tone, they should initiate what they want others to do.
    • Get respect by showing respect
    • Get understanding by being understanding
    • Listen well, trying to understand instead of being understood.
    • Get quality time by giving quality time
    • Hears words of affirmation by giving words of affirmation
    • Get served by first serving
    • Receive unconditional love by first giving unconditional loving

He then talks about spiritual gifts.  Peter encourages us to make five observations about our spiritual gifts:

  1. Every believer has at least one spiritual gift. (1 Peter 4:10)
  2. Spiritual gifts are intended to serve people, not bolster our reputations. (v.10)
  3. We use our gifts as stewards or managers, not owners.  (v.10)
  4. God is the source and the sustainer of every gift. (v. 11)
  5. We are to employ our gifts as though we were serving the Lord. (v. 11)

When we fail to use our gifts properly, we are disobedient, the body of Christ (Church) suffers and God is not glorified.

Peter closes his letter by addressing church leaders and encouraging  them to lead well.  He calls church leaders to:

  1. Be a minister to the people by serving them before being served.
  2. Be a mentor of the people by eagerly investing in people and being a good example.
  3. Be a manager of the people by exercising oversight over those entrusted to your care.
  4. Be a model for the people by demonstrating how to live and love.

Peter encourages us to humble ourselves by casting all our cares on God.  Only then does God promise to exalt us.

I hope these thoughts from Peters letter are helpful in your spiritual growth.  I encourage you to go and read 1 Peter for yourself.  I am sure there are other nuggets of gold that may be just what you need.

Nuggets from James

This morning I spent about a half hour reading through the book of James. What amazing truth and incredible wisdom. It was such a refreshing and challenging time that I thought I would share a few nuggets that really brought some renewed focus to my faith.

  • Compassionate Service – What a Christian does really matters – A good bit of James has to do with our actions.  How we treat other people, the way in which we listen and speak to other people, the way in which we serve other people.  The idea of compassionate service can only happen with a transformed heart.  On our own we tend to do the selfish thing, but when we are plugged into God and filled with His Spirit, we can love people unconditionally.  James reminds us that we are called to serve others.  The measuring stick of our commitment is not our lip service, but our life.  Here are a few principles James teaches us:
  • Selfish motives prevent a servant’s ministry
  • Following rules cannot save us, but following Jesus can
  • A lifestyle that costs nothing is worth nothing
  • A faith that is only in my head is dead
  • A worthless past is resolved by a present that works
  • Careful Speech – What a Christian says matters.  The way in which we speak and the words we use reflect what is inside of us.  The words we use have great power.  James calls it the tongue, and it can dispense both blessing and cursing.  Here are some things James shares with us on this idea of taming the tongue:
  • The tongue is a spiritual meter.  If we can bridle it, we can bridle the whole body.  It becomes the gauge for our maturity.  Our faith will never register higher than our words.
  • The tongue is like a horse’s bit, a ship’s rudder, or kindling wood.  It starts things in motion.  If we control it, we can guide our lives, just as a bit directs a horse and a rudder steers a ship.
  • The tongue is powerful.  Like a huge fire, it can ruin or bless our entire lives.  This power was meant to send us down the rigfht path, not to kill us.
  • The tongue can reveal what sort of wisdom we harbor inside.  A good tongue protects our integrity.  James asks:  Is yours a good guard or a bad one?  Does it create peace or reveal hypocrisy
  • Consistent Growth – How a Christian changes matters.  James calls us to be patient, just like a farmer who patiently waits for his harvest.  The farmer knows that if he picks the corn too early, he will miss out on some of the grain.  It’s the same way with us.  Spiritual growth is a process, not an event.  We grow daily, not in one day.  We are either growing or declining.  Our goal as followers of Christ should be to grow in our faith, in our character development and in our influence with others.  Here are some thoughts about growth:
  • Growth takes work and effort
  • Growth means you have to stretch out of your comfort zone
  • Growth means learning something new or developing a deeper understanding.
  • Growth takes focus, you can’t drift or get distracted.
  • Growth takes accountability, it accelerates when someone is watching.
  • Growth means learning from the past.
  • Growth takes action, practicing what you now know.
  • Growths means gratitude for past blessings from God.