Lead Me Not Into Temptation – Unless It’s Really Good…

 

temptation

If you know the prayer Jesus taught his disciples to pray, you know the line: “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil…”

I’ve prayed that prayer.  I’ve asked God to remove temptation from me.  Here’s my problem – it might be yours, too:  I like temptation.

What I mean is I have a bent toward certain sins.  My temptations are not the same as yours.  Jack Daniels is not a temptation for me.  Ice cream is (especially in summer).  Which is more lethal?   The church crowd frowns on Jack Daniels, but I’ve seen sugar kill a lot of Baptists.

When I talk about my temptations, I refer to food because it evokes a smile and a nod.  I hate to be honest about my other temptations.  They are real and dangerous too.

I’m tempted to always be right.  I can’t tell you how many relationships I’ve harmed because I had to prove I was right.

I’m tempted to lust.  Lust isn’t noticing someone is a female (or male).  It is objectifying a person.  Lust is treating someone as an object rather than a soul.

I’m tempted to want approval. I want people to look at my life and say, “What a fine person he is.”  Even when I fail, I want them to say, “Isn’t it wonderful that he fails every now and then?  Otherwise, he’d be almost as perfect as Jesus.”

I’m tempted to believe rules don’t apply to me.  The speed limit is for others, not me (I tried to explain this to a State Trooper once).  Calories impact others, not me.  Time should slow down when I’m running late because I manage myself poorly.

I struggle with other temptations, but you get the idea.

Here’s my conundrum:  I like the first sensation when I give into temptation.  I do.  I like the taste of ice cream.  I like people saying, “I like your preaching.”  I like the rush of driving fast.

But I hate the sick feeling of too much sugar.  I hate the guilt of objectifying people.  I hate feeling like I have to meet someone’s expectations all the time.  I hate the shame of letting people down.

I hate the self-destruction I inflict on my own soul.

Let me tell you how dumb I am:  I return to the same old temptations time after time, expecting different results.  Didn’t Einstein say the definition of insanity was doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results?

To really ask God to deliver me from temptation, I have to accept an uncomfortable reality:  My temptations are not good.  They never are good.  The temptations lead to sin, which leads to soul-erosion, which means I have to do internal repair work.  I get tired of re-building the same section of my soul over and over.

I think Jesus  is telling me when I pray, “Lead me not into temptation” the worst thing I can do is put myself in an ice cream shop and say, “Lord, help me not want ice cream.”

To pray “lead me not into temptation” means I will start my day by thinking about temptation zones.  Some of the temptation zones are physical places.  Some of the temptation zones are spiritual places.  All the temptation zones have warning signals my soul hears: Danger!  My soul is telling me, “Don’t go there.  Don’t go there physically.  Don’t go there in your head.  Nothing good is going to happen there.”

If only I would listen.

It really comes down to this:  Whatever tempts me to move  away from God is not good for my soul.  It’s never good for me.  Never.

That’s a harsh reality I would like to deny – but it’s true.

“Lead me not into temptation” means I know no good comes from temptation.  Period.

Excuse me now while I go throw out a carton of ice cream.

The Soul Realities of Parents and Teens…

parent teen conflict

I was asked: “How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?”

My first thought, unspoken: “You are too late.”

Teenagers are not good people.  Even though we have taught this generation they all deserve a trophy, teenagers are just like their parents: imperfect.  How do imperfect parents produce perfect kids?  They don’t.

We put onto our children hopes and dreams.  By the time they hit middle school, it becomes obvious they will not be star athletes; nor are they the smartest kid in the room; nor are they going to be Miss South Carolina.  At this point, some parents keep pushing.  The parents want the children to fill their dreams.  The kids rebel.  Tension rises.  Parents get rigid.  The battle is joined.

Sometimes the story goes like this:  Mom and Dad divorce.  One of the children is expected to fill the role of confidant.  The child becomes the replacement spouse, the holder of family anger, the keeper of family secrets.  At about 15, the child gets tired of this role.  They rebel.  They drink.  They become sexually active.  They are defiant.  Then Mom or Dad ask the pastor, “How do I parent my teenagers so they turn out to be good people?”

To be a good parent, you must deal in soul reality.  Soul reality is the truth about a person’s entire being.  This is the truth about all of us, parent and teenager:  We make bad decisions; we don’t think straight; we have mixed up emotions; our bodies keep changing and we don’t know how to manage the change; and relationships are hard.  This is the reality of our souls.

If you start with soul realities, you understand: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).”  The precious baby of 15 years ago was born into failure.  Every parent was born into failure too.

Once you accept the basic soul reality of sin, you know you need help.  This is God’s great offer to sinners:  He wants to help you.  He wants to forgive you.  He wants to give you a new path to follow.  He offers you a different soul reality.

So how does this work when you parent teenagers?

You start by confessing your own sins to God.  You are appropriately upfront with your sins with kids.  That means when you lose your temper, you tell your kids you blew it and you are sorry.   You admit the reality of your own soul so you can help your kids accept the reality of their souls.

You ask God for wisdom.  That means you spend time with Him.  You let your kids know you are praying for them and asking God to help you be a better parent.  You ask God to guide you to a new soul reality.

You ask God for strength.  Even though you are imperfect, God called you to parent this child.  That’s right: Parenting is a calling.  Your call is not to be a best friend or to have your children approve of you.  Your calling is to love, forgive, to set boundaries, to let there be consequences, to give grace.  You adjust the your soul values to God’s new reality.

To be a good parent, you need a perfect role model.  That’s why parents should get as close to God as they possibly can.  He’s the perfect parent.  He loves his children.  He gives them grace.  He guides them.  He lets his children make wrong choices and suffer consequences so they learn.  His hope for his children is not for them to succeed, but for his children to be with him.  God will reshape your soul into a new reality.

So how do you parent your teenager so they become good people?  You don’t.  You parent your teenager the same way your Heavenly Father parents you: you deal with soul realities.  Our souls are a mess; God, our Father, offers you a new soul reality.  In that new reality, you give your teenager the same things your Heavenly Father offers your:  grace, love, guidance, and strength. A new soul reality is born.

 

Reset…

reset

 

You know the drill.

Your computer freezes.  You click your mouse.  Nothing.  You try to click out of the program.  Nothing.  You try to minimize the window.  Nothing.  You speak to your computer with four letter words.  Nothing.

You might try Ctrl+Alt+Delete.  Sometimes it works.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  When all else fails, you push the button.

What button?  The one that turns the computer off.  You know it will take time.  You know you will lose work.  The alternative is to stay frustrated and hope your anger melts the computer’s brain freeze.

I don’t know why, but this works most of the time.  Electrons get back on track.  The mouse works again.  Programs and apps are opening.  The computer needed to reset.

You need to reset too.

God knows this.  That’s why he commanded the Sabbath (Note: he didn’t suggest it).  Once a week you need twenty-four hours to unplug, remember what’s important, and reset.

You may not know God told his people they needed time off.  In his instructions to his people, he told them to celebrate festivals.  God said to his people “Spend three weeks a year feasting, worshiping, and resetting.

You need more than a day to reset.  You need days strung together to remember what’s important.

Maybe that’s what’s wrong with our vacations.  We get away, but we don’t reset.  We don’t create emptiness so God has space to speak to us.  It is ok to do nothing.  Doing nothing means there is room in your soul for God to say something.

To reset, you may need some vacation time that doesn’t involve Disney.  You may need to shut down your cell phone.  You may need to take a break from social media (you will not be forgotten).  You may need to explain to the kids that part of vacation will be creating space to reset.

Include God in your vacation time.  Ask him what needs to be reset.  Let him whisper to you about your soul clutter.  Soul clutter is all that occupies space in your soul and becomes a “have-to.”  Somethings have to be done – laundry, grocery shopping, etc.   But there are “have-to’s” that aren’t.  You don’t have to involve your child in five sports.  You don’t have to do your adult child’s laundry.  You don’t have to meet the guys at the hunt club at 5 AM for a workday (when the sun doesn’t come up until 6 AM).

Reset means giving yourself time to see your life as it really is.  Reset means giving yourself room to hear from God about what your life needs to be.

Time to reset.  Take a deep breath.  Push the button.  Shut down your operating system.  Let your heart rate slow down.  Do nothing.  Listen for God.

Reset.

My Squash Died …


 

wilted-squash-plants-400x262

In a fit of confidence this year, I set out tomatoes and squash this year.  My tomatoes have done great.  Nothing like home-grown tomatoes.

My squash, however, died.  I got two squash off four plants.  Not a good return on investment.

Most gardeners I know grow boat-loads of squash.  In one community where we lived, bags of squash and zucchini would appear on our door step over night.  People weren’t being kind.  They just wanted to get rid of the stuff.  Zucchini bread multiplied.  I seriously thought we could add a room onto the house if we got just a few more loaves of zucchini bread.

If the stuff is so easy to grow, why did mine die?  I watered the plants.  I made sure they got fertilizer.  I did everything I needed to do.  Right?

There is a disease called “bacterial wilt.”  A cucumber caterpillar feeds on the plants and injects a bacteria which causes wilt.  Once wilt starts, nothing can be done.

The best way to fight bacteria wilt is to never let it start.  You get rid of the cucumber caterpillar.  I should have sprayed to kill it.  But I didn’t.  Being a lazy gardener, I thought maybe the cucumber caterpillars would leave me alone.  Maybe God would understand I was a busy pastor and didn’t have time to spray.  My excuses didn’t matter.  The squash still died.

Your soul can wilt too.

There is an infection that can wilt your ability to make decisions.  It can weaken your thoughts; it can destroy your feelings.  This infection can incapacitate your body.  It can ruin relationships.

The scripture calls this infection “sin.”  Before you dismiss the idea of sin as being old fashioned, haven’t you seen its realities?  Haven’t you seen people with wilted souls?

The hard truth: you have wilted soul.  How do I know?  Because we’ve all invited sin into our lives.  We’ve all known the right thing to do and done the wrong thing.  Those choices – thousands of them – wilt our souls.

When souls wilt, people protest they fed their souls with art, pleasure, and intellectual stimulation.  Church people, bewildered, protest they fed their souls by going to church, studying scripture, and praying.  Protesting doesn’t change reality.

Your soul can wilt until you are left with a dried up life.  A dried up life produces no fruit.  A dried up life just takes up space.

Unlike my squash plants, there is hope for our wilted souls.  Our hope is the power of Jesus.

Jesus’s death and resurrection does not merely mean we go to heaven.  He entered our world.  He died to defeat the sin that infects us.  His resurrection means he conquered everything that wilts our souls.

Inviting Jesus into our souls brings healing.  He drives out the infection of sin.  He strengthens our weakness.  He rights our skewed feelings and thoughts.  He puts our relationships on a firm foundation.  That’s what the line in the old hymn means: “He makes the sinner whole…”

Let Jesus not only forgive your sin, but heal your wilted soul.  Then prepare to be amazed at the fruit that grows from your life.

If only Jesus would heal my squash.

It’s How You Say It…

congressional shooting

On Wednesday, June 14, a supporter of Senator Bernie Sanders specifically asked if the people on a baseball field were Democrats or Republicans.  When told they were Republicans, he opened fire.  The protective guard of Steve Scalise bravely returned fire, using pistols against a semi-automatic rifle.  The assailant, James Hodgkinson, died after treatment for gunshot wounds.

Before Congressman Scalise came out of surgery, pundits were rushing to turn the event to their political advantage.  No surprise.  In this age of instant news, the more outlandish your statement and tweets, the more name recognition you get.

People ask, “How do we keep this from happening again?”  Some suggest more laws; others suggest more guns.  Who is right?

The only way I know to truly change behavior comes not from laws or guns, but from a relationship with Jesus.  As the love of Jesus fills your heart, hate is driven from your soul.

Maybe Jesus followers could show the way.  What if how we say something matters as much as what we say?  Jesus’s brother, James, wrote, “Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires (1:19-20).”  I bet he learned that from his brother.

To do this requires you to believe that God is right and you are not.  So listen first to the whispers of God to your soul.  Listen to your brother or sister whom God loves.  Think about what you say.  Think about the impact of your words, your Facebook rants, your tweets, and Instagram messages.  Can you make your point without making an enemy?

Realize anger is the most delicious emotion.  As anger forms in your mind you are convinced you are right.  It’s a short journey from believing you are right to believing you are righteous, thus possessing the right to deliver judgment.  It is this line of thinking that moves anger from delicious to dangerous.

When you are filled with righteousness you forget two things:  first, “No one is righteous, no, not one (Romans 3:10);” and, second, your anger doesn’t produce a righteousness God desires (see above).   Self-righteousness is a deadly sin that can cause you to believe your destruction of someone is justified.  We’ll never know, but I would bet James Hodgkinson felt pretty righteous on June 14th.

The homespun wisdom I grew up with taught, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it.”  May Jesus followers rise up and show our country how to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger.

How to Have a Couple Conversation About Giving- extended version

couple in conversation

 

You and your spouse are pulling out of the church parking lot.  The message that day was on giving.  During the message, you exchanged glances, as if you both knew God was speaking to you.  In your heart you know your financial relationship with God isn’t where it needs to be.  During the last song, you held hands, sharing a moment of physical and spiritual connection.

This is the moment of truth.  The kids are on their phones.  Where you are eating lunch has been decided.  Will the two of you have a conversation about what you both just experienced?

Maybe it’s a harder conversation.  Maybe your heart was stirred by the message, but you looked at your spouse and saw arms crossed, mouth frowning, eyebrows furrowing.  How do you talk about what God is saying to you?

It could be the other way around.  During the message, you found your heart bracing against the sermon.  You looked at your spouse to see if they feel as negatively as you do, but to your surprise, you saw them leaning forward, nodding.  Fear raced through your mind: “She/he can’t be taking this seriously.”

How do you have that crucial conversation about giving?  More than any other spiritual discipline, convictions about giving get dropped quickly in the face of bringing it up with your partner.

Why?

  1. Fear of starting a conflict.  It is easy for a conversation about giving to turn into a fight about spending and financial management.
  2. Fear of resurrecting an old conflict.  Old conflicts that may have nothing to do with money get attached to the giving conversation.  What begins as a conversation about generosity surfaces old wounds about being controlled or invalidated.
  3. Feeling vulnerable about inadequacies.  If one partner feels inadequate about money matters, he or she may be reluctant to expose their vulnerability.
  4. Feeling vulnerable about unhealthy habits.  One partner in the relationship may feel shame about unhealthy habits that take discretionary income and limit the ability to give.  They want to avoid facing that issue at all costs.

So how do you have this crucial conversation about giving?

Someone has to go first.  This is a good chance for husbands to lead and say, “I feel like we need to talk about the message today.” About 80% of the time, however, women take the lead in bringing up an issue the couple needs to face.  If you sense you both felt moved by God, either partner can say, “I sense you felt God speaking to you during the message.  I did too.  Can we talk about that?”

If you felt moved during the message and sensed resistance from your spouse, the issue still needs to be raised.  You might say, “I sense we reacted differently to the message today.  I would like to hear what you experienced and then share with you what I experienced.”

If you felt resistant and noticed your spouse was moved, it will strengthen your relationship if you bring up the issue first:  “I felt really closed to the message today and I’m not sure why.  But I noticed you seemed to be really engaged.  Can you share with me what you experienced?  Then I’d like to talk about what I was feeling.”  If you know why you felt resistant, take the risk of being vulnerable and share the reason.  “I was really resistant to the message today.  Whenever I hear a pastor talk about giving, it reminds me of all the money my parents sent to TV evangelists and how that money was misused.  I sense you had a different reaction.  Would you mind sharing it with me?”

No matter your starting point, be courageous and go first!  Get the conversation started!

Make a commitment to explore the message from God, but not reach a conclusion.  “I think we need to talk about this, but not leap to a decision today.”  This one statement will lower the anxiety of the other partner.  It will probably lower your own anxiety!  When God speaks to you in any worship service, he wants you to reflect on what he is saying.  Ask:  “Is the message we think we are hearing consistent with God’s Bible?”  Jesus said, “Count the cost.”  What’s the cost of the message you heard?  What do your feelings represent?

Commit to talk these things through without judging each other.  Use “I” statements, not “we” statements.  A good “I” statement: “I feel convicted we should give more, but I worry about our credit card debt.”  A bad “we” statement: “We should give more, but we can’t because we have too much credit card debt.  At all costs, avoid “you” statements: “If you made more money, we could give more.”  That conversation will go rapidly downhill.

A good exploration conversation will mean you take turns listening to each other.  Make sure you clearly understand each other (“I think I hear you saying you are worried if we increase our giving, we won’t be able to take a vacation this year.”).  The focus of this part of the conversation will be on how you feel, not coming up with a plan of action.

A special word to men: Once we hear there is a problem, we want to come up with a solution!  Do not prematurely move to problem solving!

Tentatively explore possible next steps If you both sense the same next step, this is easy.  You might agree that you need to begin to give $100 a week.  God sent you the same message.

What happens when you see different steps?  The general principle of 1 Peter 3:7 applies: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”  In this case, focus on the principle of this verse, not the specific teaching regarding gender roles.  For example, if a wife says, “I believe we need to step up to giving 10% of our income,” and the husband says, “I’m afraid we can’t afford that,” a good response from the wife would be, “I respect your fears.  I will not push.  What would be a next step that would stretch us, but not break us apart?”

What if you can’t come to a middle ground?  Like Paul, I would offer you my judgment, not a “word from the Lord.”  If a couple can’t come to agreement on giving or find middle ground, giving is not the issue.  Giving represents something deeper that needs to be addressed.  The deeper issue at the very least inhibits closeness between partners and at worst indicates a relational time bomb that is waiting to go off.  I think God would want you to commit to dealing with the real issue in the marriage before you begin to resolve questions about giving.  Jesus said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you,  leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.”  Seek peace in the relationship first and the giving conversation will be much easier.

Once you agree on a possible next step, it’s a good moment to bring this conversation to a close.  Before the conversation ends, commit to step four and set a time when you will resume the conversation.

Hold the next step loose and commit to pray.  As you close the first conversation, agree to hold the possible next step loosely.  You think you have common ground and a common vision for what God wants you to do.  Commit to one another to pray about this for a specific period of time.  If your pattern as a couple is to pray out loud together, do so.  If it is not your pattern, forcing an “out loud” prayer on this issue will be artificial and will create suspicion and mistrust.

I would not make this time of holding the next step loosely and praying too long.  Other life issues will be to crowd out the message of God, like thorns choke out seeds  struggling up to the sun.  I would suggest a period of no longer than three days.

As you pray, ask God to give you and your spouse peace about your next step in giving.  There is no formula for receiving the peace of God.  Sometimes a feeling of well-being enters your souls.  Sometimes there is a sign of confirmation, such as a financial blessing or an unexpected encouraging word from friends.  Sometimes there is a conviction that the next step is correct, but you still feel uneasy.  This is normal!  God told Joshua three times before he led the people of Israel to the Promised Land, “Don’t be afraid!”  A healthy measure of fear is a sign that you are truly stepping forward in faith.

What if you pray and still feel no peace?  Simply report back to your spouse your experience and commit to continue to pray.

Close the LoopWhen it’s time to resume the conversation, make sure you have un-interrupted time (when the kids are asleep and pressing chores are done).    Start this conversation by summarizing where you left off the last conversation.  Remember to receive the feelings and impressions of your partner without judgment.

Now ask the proposed next step still feels reasonable to each of you.  If so, then it’s time to put it in motion.  It sounds hokey, but put it in writing!  Writing helps it be real and helps you remember.  Designate which one of you will be responsible for making sure the gift(s) will be given.  Do not assume it is the one who always pays the bills!  It might be important for both of you to share in the act of giving.  Discuss the best way for you to share the gift: check, online, automatic bank draft, text to give, etc.  I strongly suggest you not give cash.  Contributions to churches are tax deductible.  Giving by a traceable method allows the church to provide you with a statement of contributions that you can use when you prepare your tax return.

Once the gift is given, be sure to celebrate! You have taken a next step toward Jesus.  He whispered to your soul and you followed.  Be sure to share your feelings after giving.  Do you feel excited? Sad? Fearful?  All of the above?  Each emotion is a cue to how to pray.

Notice the unexpected blessings God sends to you to honor your giving.  Name these blessings to each other.  If one partner feels a blessing is a direct result of giving and the other partner doesn’t, honor how each partner feels.  Each of you will be able to see God’s hand at work in different ways.

What if you don’t see eye to eye?  What if you are not on the same page?  If this is the case (and giving does not represent an underlying unaddressed issue), then continue to pray and talk non-judgmentally until you find a common direction from God.  God has the ability to make his direction plain to you in his time.  Do not let a church deadline or pressure from a church leader (even a pastor!) hurry God’s work.  It may be that God is preparing your heart for something bigger than you can imagine or conceive!

The temptation is to grow weary in the discussion.  Heed Paul’s testimony to the Philippians: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.”  The work of the conversations you share will draw you closer to each other and to God.  If you get discouraged, go back and share the feelings you experienced in the worship service.

If you have trouble having this conversation, I encourage you as a couple to talk with a trusted Christian mentor or a pastor.  You might need a third party to help you hear what each other is truly saying.

Non-judgmental, vulnerable conversations about giving can bring a new sense of closeness in a relationship.  God may be inviting you to experience a whole new level of intimacy with each other and with him!

How to have a couple conversation about giving – short version

couple talking about money

You and your spouse are pulling out of the church parking lot.  The message that day was on giving.  During the message, you exchanged glances, as if you both knew God was speaking to you.  In your heart you know your financial relationship with God isn’t where it needs to be.  During the last song, you held hands, sharing a moment of physical and spiritual connection.

This is the moment of truth.  The kids are on their phones.  Where you are eating lunch has been decided.  Will the two of you have a conversation about what you both just experienced?

How do you have that crucial conversation about giving?  More than any other spiritual discipline, convictions about giving get dropped quickly in the face of bringing it up with your partner.

So how do you have this crucial conversation about giving?

Someone has to go first.  This is a good chance for husbands to lead and say, “I feel like we need to talk about the message today.” About 80% of the time, however, women take the lead in bringing up an issue the couple needs to face.  If you sense you both felt moved by God, either partner can say, “I sense you felt God speaking to you during the message.  I did too.  Can we talk about that?”

Be courageous and go first!  Get the conversation started!

Make a commitment to explore the message from God, but not reach a conclusion.  “I think we need to talk about this, but not leap to a decision today.”  This one statement will lower the anxiety of the other partner.  It will probably lower your own anxiety!  When God speaks to you in any worship service, he wants you to reflect on what he is saying.  Ask:  “Is the message we think we are hearing consistent with God’s Bible?”  Jesus said, “Count the cost.”  What’s the cost of the message you heard?  What do your feelings represent?

Tentatively explore possible next steps If you both sense the same next step, this is easy.  You might agree that you need to begin to give $100 a week.  God sent you the same message.

What happens when you see different steps?  The general principle of 1 Peter 3:7 applies: “Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers.”  In this case, focus on the principle of this verse, not the specific teaching regarding gender roles.  For example, if a wife says, “I believe we need to step up to giving 10% of our income,” and the husband says, “I’m afraid we can’t afford that,” a good response from the wife would be, “I respect your fears.  I will not push.  What would be a next step that would stretch us, but not break us apart?”

Once you agree on a possible next step, it’s a good moment to bring this conversation to a close.  Before the conversation ends, commit to step four and set a time when you will resume the conversation.

Hold the next step loose and commit to pray.  As you close the first conversation, agree to hold the possible next step loosely.  You think you have common ground and a common vision for what God wants you to do.  Commit to one another to pray about this for a specific period of time.  If your pattern as a couple is to pray out loud together, do so.  If it is not your pattern, forcing an “out loud” prayer on this issue will be artificial and will create suspicion and mistrust.

I would not make this time of holding the next step loosely and praying too long.  Other life issues will be to crowd out the message of God, like thorns choke out seeds  struggling up to the sun.  I would suggest a period of no longer than three days.

Close the LoopWhen it’s time to resume the conversation, make sure you have un-interrupted time (when the kids are asleep and pressing chores are done).    Start this conversation by summarizing where you left off the last conversation.  Remember to receive the feelings and impressions of your partner without judgment.

Now ask the proposed next step still feels reasonable to each of you.  If so, then it’s time to put it in motion.  It sounds hokey, but put it in writing!  Writing helps it be real and helps you remember.  Designate which one of you will be responsible for making sure the gift(s) will be given.  Do not assume it is the one who always pays the bills!  It might be important for both of you to share in the act of giving.  Discuss the best way for you to share the gift: check, online, automatic bank draft, text to give, etc.  I strongly suggest you not give cash.  Contributions to churches are tax deductible.  Giving by a traceable method allows the church to provide you with a statement of contributions that you can use when you prepare your tax return.

Once the gift is given, be sure to celebrate!

Non-judgmental, vulnerable conversations about giving can bring a new sense of closeness in a relationship.  God may be inviting you to experience a whole new level of intimacy with each other and with him!

Givers, Takers, and Matchers…

giving

Do you want to be a giver or a taker?

Part of our souls leap to say “I want to be a giver.” But another part of our souls, says, “Wait a minute. What if I give too much? What if I get taken advantage of?” So we hesitate. According to Adam Grant in, Give and Take, every human gathering has givers, takers, and matchers.

The attitude of a giver: “What can I do for you?” The attitude of a taker: “What can you do for me?” The attitude of a matcher: “I will do for you what you do for me.”

Takers can start out as givers who get burned. They gave and someone took too much from them. If the wound is big enough, the giver will switch teams, vowing never to be taken advantage of again. Or takers can be people who simply decide to let greed rule their lives. They believe “He who dies with the most toys wins.”

Most of us, I think, would like to be givers. What stops us? Fear. We’re afraid we will be taken advantage of, or we will not have enough to take care of ourselves, or what we give will make no difference. As a result, we slide down to be a matcher. We watch to see what others do and we decide we will match this. If we see Bob put $40 in the offering plate, we will too. If Mary volunteers, I will too. If Tom stays late at work, I will too.

Matchers occupy the middle ground. I’ve seen many couples who have a “matching” marriage. Family is a series of verbal contracts: “I will if you will.” The problem with matchers is someone else has to go first. If two matchers get disappointed with each other, the marriage freezes.

A true giver gives from an internal source. His or her joy is found in helping someone else win. A true giver doesn’t give to be recognized. For a true giver, life is not a competition. The joy is not in the size of a financial gift or the number of hours they serve; the joy comes from seeing tomorrow being different than today

So who are you?

God wanted his people Israel to be givers, but they were takers. They wanted God to bless them, protect them, and serve them. If they had time, they would try to do a little something for him. Funny, they denied they were takers, even while they robbed God of respect, resources, and reign. If you are quick to deny you are a taker, chances are good you are one.

When Peter asked Jesus if he was to forgive his brother seven times, he was thinking like a matcher. Matchers keep score. In God’s kindness, he recognizes many of us start here. That’s why Jesus said, “Give and it will be given to you.” Being a matcher is better than being a taker, but Jesus also made it clear that we could do better. “If you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that.”

God’s goal for you is to be a giver, but not to be a giver who gives out. It only makes sense to give if you believe in an infinite God who has infinite resources to give you. I believe God showed us he is an infinitely giving God when he sent Jesus, the infinitely pure one, to forgive us with infinite grace. When you truly live in His grace, giving is joy.

Imagine a family of givers! Wouldn’t you love to have a family like that? Imagine a church filled with givers! What could be done? Imagine a city filled with givers! Wouldn’t you love to live there?

It starts with you. Will you trust that God will pour into you, so you can pour into others?

I Want to Matter to Someone…

do i matter

I hate being treated as a number.  You know those places that have the little machine that says “take a number?”  I avoid those places as much as possible.

I don’t think anyone wants to grow up and be a number.  Did anyone ever dream: “I’m the 43rd employee of this company?”  Or “I can’t wait to be the 18th girl he sleeps with.”  Or “I’m the 45th patient the doctor has seen today.”

That’s why we try to leave our mark. We carve initials in trees, put locks on bridges, and write our names in concrete.  That’s why we get mad when someone we love doesn’t call.  That’s why we are hurt when someone doesn’t notice we are struggling.  We want to matter to someone.

It’s easy for human beings to get overwhelmed with tasks, schedules and life.  And human beings have a limited capacity to meet another person’s needs for significance.  We’ve all been friends with that needy person who never can get enough affirmation or attention (Free advice:  If the last sentence describes your current boyfriend/girlfriend – run away.  Now.).

Realizing every human being has limitations means it only makes sense to seek your significance from an infinite being, someone who never runs out, who never gets tired.  Someone who has unfailing compassion and never ending grace.  Someone like God our Father.

God shows you how much you matter when through Jesus, the Son, he gave his life for you and defeated death for you.

To find your significance in God means you let him render the verdict on your life.  He determines if you are a good parent, spouse, or friend.  If you follow Jesus, then all the validation you ever seek will come.

You do matter to God; make sure he matters to you.

What I wish Mama Could See and Hear…

Kong and Sissie

It’s been almost five years since my mother died.  She really left us years before, as Alzheimer’s robbed her of her mind.  Sometimes her eyes would lock on you and you could almost feel the part of her brain that was clear of memory robbing plaque trying to communicate.

People ask me from time to time if people in heaven know what’s happening on earth.  The honest answer is “I don’t know.”  God didn’t make that clear.  I do know when people die and go to heaven, they are not converted into angels.  That’s folk theology that isn’t taught in the Bible.  Sometimes I pray and ask God to tell my mother some things I wish she could see and hear.

I wish Mama could see her grandchildren now.  They are all grown and very good looking (some too good looking for their own good).  When Sarah and my niece Katie graduate next year, all of her grandchildren will have graduated from college.  She would be thrilled.  A college education to her represented a real achievement.  She’d be even more amazed that three of the eleven have Master’s degrees.

I wish Mama could hear me say to her, “The older I get, the smarter I realize you were.”  Like every adolescent in the world, I was convinced I knew more than her.  Now I know she had a wisdom that let me try and fail; that spoke her mind when she thought I was making a mistake; and that supported me even when she wasn’t sure about the path I was taking.  I also know that she must had many conversations with my step-father I never knew about, pleading my cause: “Lawrence, don’t make him go fishing again.  That’s just not him.”

I wish Mama could hear me say, “I forgive you.”  When I hear people talk about their perfect mothers, my skepticism kicks in.  I don’t know any perfect mothers.  My Mom had a wounded soul from a father who fell short and from losing a husband far too soon.  She could lose her temper and be very judgmental.  But in many ways, I think she did the best could.  She was like the injured runner who persevered, and finished the race.  As I’ve gotten older and faced my own shortcomings as a parent, I want to apologize for being so judgmental toward her and tell her “I forgive you because I know you were doing the best you could.”

I wish Mama could hear me say “Thank you.”  I never said it enough.  Maybe you don’t realize how much you have to be thankful for until your mother isn’t there.  I want to thank her for reading stories to me, for pushing me to be all I could be, for taking me seriously when I said at four years old, “I want to be a preacher.”  I want to thank her for her imperfect love, the best she could offer.  I want to thank her for being courageous after my father died.  I want to thank her for letting me go explore, which was really the beginning of my passion for next steps.

I wish I could give Mama a Mother’s day gift one more time – like the coffee mug I made for her in 3rd grade that looked like a piece of mud with a handle.  She kept it all her life, ugly as it was, because I made it.

But for me, the window of time has closed.  I can only pray that God lets my mother know these things – and lets her know I still miss her.  I don’t know if God passes on messages, but I’d like to think he does.

And if God passes on messages, I hope he passes on one more.  There’s one more message I’d like Mama to hear:

I love you.  Happy Mother’s Day Mama.