That Person

I have them. You have them.

I am one. You are one.

That person…

  • …you are constantly battling the thought that they can’t do anything right
  • …you are tempted to believe is unforgivable
  • …you wish they’d just move on
  • …you wonder if there’s such a thing as too much grace
  • …you’re convinced doesn’t have a clue

That person(s) that you’re thinking about right now is your that person.

As a recovering judger and teller, I’ve labeled many people as that person. The more I own and understand that I’m also that person the fewer people I label. We have to resist labeling in our minds and hearts, and we need to be aware when we’re spreading our labeling to others by talking about that person. Not easy work.

How do we do this work? I’m doing it by asking myself three questions:

  1. How am I praying for that person?
  2. How will I stay engaged with that person?
  3. When’s the last time that person…
  • …had an arm around their shoulder?
  • …heard, “I forgive you”?
  • …believed they weren’t alone?
  • …experienced grace from another human?
  • …felt safe with those who knew them well?

It’s hard relationship work. But that person needs it. And as someone else’s that person, I need it.

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Oatmeal & the Holy Spirit

Not sure when it happened, but at some point in my adulthood I became an oatmeal eater. For a ‘Bama boy, I might as well start calling a Coke “Soda Pop.”

When I choose to have oatmeal for breakfast, that usually means one packet of instant oatmeal. Occasionally I intentionally choose to double up. That wasn’t my intent this morning. Yet I did.

When I reached into the box for the one envelope, I actually pulled out two. I told myself it was not a double-up day and returned one envelope.

As I opened the one envelope and emptied it into my bowl, I realized I had unintentionally gotten a double-up bowl. In my structured world, there are one-envelope bowls, and there are two-envelope bowls. So what was I to do? Should I change bowls? Or, heaven forbid, do I double up when I’d already decided not to?

A thought occurred.  “Maybe I’m supposed to eat two packs.  Maybe there was unknown purpose behind my grabbing two envelopes and ‘mistakenly’ getting the wrong bowl.  Maybe I should just follow the signs.”

Is it possible in more life-changing moments that the Holy Spirit works through signs like this, and I just shut him out?  He’s led me to do something unusual, but my need for normalcy or understanding keep me from following?  I’m pretty sure the answer is yes.

Instead of changing bowls, I retook the second envelope.  I doubled up purely to follow the signs.

Has doubling up this morning changed my life?  Doubtful.  But it certainly changed my spirit.

Dude, You’re Being Soft

(An “Own It” Series for Dudes…series resurrected. Four previous posts were August-October 2017)

Based on current reads and also interactions with dudes, it’s time to address a thing-the glaring decline in strong dudes. It’s a thing.

I’m not talking about physical strength. There’s probably an increase there thanks to gyms and fitness addicts. I’m talking about the rest of a dude’s strength-emotional, mental, spiritual-which are more important to build and maintain. So it makes sense that if they are more important, then they require more attention and intention. That’s work. Hard work. And it appears it’s not happening for many dudes.

Why is that? Let’s be honest. Working on strengthening your emotional, mental, and spiritual muscles has the stigma of being soft. Guess what…that’s shame messaging coming from the grunt section. How can something that requires hard work be soft, particularly if it brings you more holistic strength? I counter that not working on these areas is the real characterization of being soft.

If you’re up for it-the hard work of strengthening all of you-here are ten questions to get you started:

  1. What was the last yes you gave God?
  2. When did you last purposefully do something emotionally or spiritually uncomfortable?
  3. How do you manage your fight or flight tendencies?
  4. How are you addressing your present doubts and fears?
  5. How much say does God have in your decisions?
  6. What have you learned about yourself in the last three months?
  7. How are you engaging what you don’t understand about culture, relationships, or God?
  8. What was the last intentional change you made?
  9. What other dudes know you don’t want to be soft?
  10. What’s your level of being all in?

What other questions could you ask yourself to bolster your emotional, mental, and spiritual strength? Who can help you engage these questions? What will your fitness plan be to stop being soft?

Saying No to Say Yes (book review)

I don’t recall how I came across this book. I’m guessing it was a “if you like that book you’ll like this book” Kindle referral. God bless Kindle.

If you are remotely involved with pastors (you are one, you serve one, you sit under one, you counsel one, you plan to be one, you’re married to one, you are searching for one, you just hired one, you used to be one), this book is gold. Why? Because the church world more often than not fails when it comes to pastoral boundaries. Ask your pastor.

We cannot become an expert at anything if we are responding to everything.

If for no other reason, get the book for chapter three, Setting Boundaries in Anxious Congregational Systems. Congregations become anxious for all kinds of reasons. That’s part of community. In those anxious seasons, they respond in various ways. Chapter three discusses four of those: projection, scapegoating, triangles, and multigenerational transmission. Immensely helpful.

The greater the anxiety, the more primitive the functioning of members… The greater the anxiety and emotional contagion, the more primitive and reactive people become and the less capable of creative thinking.

Chapter three also introduces the topic of differentiation-the ability to be in emotional contact with others yet still autonomous in one’s emotional functioning.

True differentiation is the ability to go home, not become emotionally reactive, and attempt to maintain a one-to-one relationship with key members of the family… Trying to keep everyone happy is not differentiation nor is avoiding or cutting off from unpleasant people. Differentiation is the ability to lead, set clear boundaries, say “no” when necessary, while at the same time building intimate relationships – even with those with whom we disagree.

All pastors will face boundary issues. It comes with the serving people career. If your pastor is up to pursuing excellence, he will agree with this final quote:

It is our job to preach, teach, and live a gospel that doesn’t depend on human over-functioning but on God’s grace.

Do him and yourself a favor. Get copies of this book and start creating healthy boundaries that connect to an overwhelming “Yes.”

Leadership Points

If you aspire to be a leader…If you currently have a leadership post…If you wonder how you’re doing as a leader, here are some points to consider (random and not exhaustive), especially for those serving the church world.

  • The only person to fear is the Holy Spirit.
  • Weigh carefully every “yes” and every “no.”
  • Be ready to say at any time, “I messed up.”
  • Expect disappointment, but don’t let it root bitterness.
  • Going to bed angry is always a bad choice.
  • You will never regret praying.
  • Professional Counselors are your friends.
  • Your weaknesses aren’t meant to bring you shame. They are reminders that you shouldn’t go it alone.
  • Horizontal affirmation will never be enough.
  • When you think you’ve communicated something well, ask yourself, “Did Grandma get that?”
  • God determines when you’re done.
  • The broader your reading the deeper your growth.
  • Your awe of God level produces your peace and contentment level.
  • Arrive prepared. Confess if you aren’t.
  • Assume you can always build more trust.
  • Thank the person or group who discovered the solution.
  • Believe someone else is the smartest person in the room.
  • You must meet people where they in order to lead them where they need to go.

When God Asks You a Question

When’s the last time you recall a conversation where a question was asked and the person replied, “Wow! That’s a good question”?  I’ve been on both sides of that, and mostly likely you have also.  Those are life-giving conversations.

Elijah had one of those conversations with God in 1 Kings 19.  In this case, Elijah got asked this question, not once but twice: “What are you doing here?”  Similar to God questioning Adam and Eve in the Garden and to Jesus asking Peter the same question three times, this conversation was a learning moment, one that gave direction to a wandering child of God.

Is there shame in wandering?  I’m guessing if there were God wouldn’t bother showing up to ask us a question.  He doesn’t show up because he’s lost or doesn’t know the answer.  He’s showing up for our benefit.  The answer to his question is for our learning, our misdirection, and our relationship with him.

Are you wandering?  Are you lacking direction?  Elijah had walked 40 days and nights and entered a cave where this conversation happened.  What if you gave God that much attention or space so that you could have a life-giving conversation?  What would it take to put yourself in position to hear when God asks you a question?

The God of Overtime

Overtime. Not a fan. Particularly in college football. Anytime I’m watching a game that seems destined for overtime I’m tempted to zone out.

In my Bible reading plan this morning this subject was presented through the story of Elijah. 1 Kings 18 records the awesome display by God on Mt. Carmel. After something like that, you’d think game over, right? Nope. Immediately Elijah goes into overtime with Queen Jezebel. She’s out for blood.

Ever had that feeling? You’ve given all you had, thought it was enough, but quickly realized there’s more to come, to finish the journey. And maybe like Elijah, you thought, “Seriously. Not sure I got anything left. I want out.” 

“Overtime” comes when you least expect it. Perhaps your marriage goes through a big crisis and you’re reconciled but, all of a sudden, one argument seems to threaten it all. Or, maybe you’re a business owner and you landed the big contract when, all of a sudden, a competitor surfaces with a competing bid. Or, maybe the chemo treatments are over, but there is a new scan that raises questions and new treatment is recommended. Overtime. (excerpt from Everyday Miracles @Youversion reading plan)

In Elijah’s case, God sent an angel to minister to him. He didn’t sugarcoat the situation. He simply met Elijah where he was, prepared him to stay in rather than get out.

That’s who God is-the God of staying in. He has what you need in overtime. He’s been in overtime ever since the Garden of Eden. Surely He can help you in yours.

How might your overtime praying go? To give you a jumpstart, here’s the prayer at the end of the reading plan devotional:

Lord, when the spirit of Jezebel attacks, I know you are near. There is no discouragement that can overtake me when I know you are with me. When the unexpected “overtime” moments of life catch me by surprise, give me the grace to continue in the full armor of God. Though discouragement may crouch at the door, show me the great journey that you have set before me. Lift up my head and give my eyes a new vision for this new day. Thank you for the victory that has been secured in Jesus. It is in his name I pray, amen.

Canoeing the Mountains (book review)

Finished this book last night, following a simulcast with the author on Monday.  I’ve tweeted quite a few quotes while reading.  Here are two from the end of the book that summarize it, in my opinion.

  • “We are all called to take the hill – with grandma.”
  • “God takes us into uncharted territory to transform us.”

Yes, the target of this book is leaders. Yet, anyone could gain much from this insightful work by Tod Bolsinger.

Yes, the target is mostly church leaders. Yet, business leaders who face a new day they didn’t see coming could also benefit from this read.

Bolsinger takes several pages from history through the 19th century story of Lewis and Clark to relate to those in 21st century leadership. Leaders today face uncharted territory which may feel like you have the wrong equipment for the job-like having a canoe to cross a mountain.

If this sounds remotely like what you are feeling, you should get this book and read it soon. Then have those you lead read it. Then start asking better questions together that may totally change everything. Instead of trying harder, maybe the answer you’ve been looking for is in reframing the question. As for you, your transformation can happen when you face uncharted territory, when you canoe the mountain.

Specifically Bold

(Final day in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

Several months ago during the prayer time after a Sunday morning sermon, a lady came forward and asked prayer for a job decision she needed to make. I can’t explain why, but I felt led to voice a prayer on her behalf that God make it clear to her within 48 hours what decision she should make.

A few weeks later she shared this with me: “I was taken back when you prayed so specifically that God would answer your prayer in 48 hours. But I have to tell you, that’s exactly what He did. Because of your prayer and the timing in which I had peace about a decision, I knew God had given me His answer. Thank you.”

Does that example mean I always get what I pray for? Nope. What it means is that we shouldn’t be afraid to pray specifically in order for God to give us direction. James wrote about this in the first chapter of his epistle.

Now if any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God – who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly – and it will be given to him. But let him ask in faith without doubting. For the doubter is like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord, being double-minded and unstable in all his ways. James 1:5-8 (CSB)

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, he paraphrases verse 6, “Ask boldly, believingly, without a second thought.” Many biblical characters voiced specifically bold prayers:

  • Hannah prayed boldly for a son (1 Samuel 1)
  • Elijah prayed boldly for rain (1 Kings 18)
  • David prayed boldly for forgiveness (Psalm 51)
  • Jesus prayed boldly for resurrecting power (John 11)

All of these prayers lacked doubt. All of them were specifically bold. All of them were answered. All of them brought God glory.

What specifically bold prayer could you pray today that would bring God glory?

Fearless

(Day 27 in a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

I’ve read about bold prayer and recently learned “bold prayers honor God, and God honors bold prayers. God isn’t offended by your biggest dreams or boldest prayers. He is offended by anything less…The more specific your prayers are, the more glory God receives. Most of us don’t get what we want because we quit praying.” Do know how to properly pray to God?

Reading about bold praying helped me notice that I’m not being specific or really being bold during praying. I’ll say a little prayer just to make me feel good about praying for that moment. Then I read,

So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. Hebrews 4:16

This passage taught me a lot with only thirty something words. Then I noticed something again. I don’t put enough faith into bold praying, or just a simple prayer. Life is full of battles that would be impossible to conquer without God’s provision. When we talk to God, we need to pray boldly, be confident, courageous, forward, strong, and firm. We have to abide by that.

There is a difference between wanting to receive something from God and being determined to receive it. Have you ever boldly prayed to God? If you haven’t, you should start now, because he wants to listen to you. “Determination brings forth bold prayers of passionate conviction. Wishing leads to shallow and unspecific prayers that are timid, hesitant, and bashful – encompassing the complete opposite of boldness.” -John Bevere

Approaching God through prayer is much more than just words. You need to be resilient and bold when you come to God. We need to be bold for God even when we are not praying. We need to be bold in everything we do.

By Shanti M. Washington