Dangerous Calling (Book Review)

Since this book was released, several minister friends have suggested it. Now I know why.

My first Tripp book was Awe. So I expected the candor of his writing. But his candor isn’t meant to only cut; it is meant more to heal. If you are a minister who knows you need healing along with everyone else, this book should be in your cart.

No one is more influential in your life then you are, because no one talks to you more than you do.

When people are your substitute messiah (you need their respect and support in order to continue), it’s hard to be honest with them about your sins, weaknesses, and failures.

The big crisis of the church is not that we are easily dissatisfied but that we are all too easily satisfied.

Every person still living with sin inside is a very skilled self-swindler.

The greatest danger in my life exists inside of me and not outside of me.

You have to live with realistic expectations.

In the intersection between the promises of God and the details of your situation, what you do with your mind is very important.

Security is never to be found in our attempt to figure it all out.

Mediocrity is a heart problem.

You can actually be mature in your understanding of God’s sovereignty but live a life of fear, because in your immaturity you have attached your security more to your control into God’s wise rule.

You must think of yourself not only as an instrument of ministry but also as a recipient.

One of the scandals of hordes of churches is that no one is pastoring their pastor.

These quotes should encourage ministers to see what deep guidance, counsel, and encouragement Tripp provides you in this book. To those under ministers, you could also benefit from reading this book in order to know how to pray for them and seek to encourage them wherever and whenever it is appropriate to do so in their dangerous calling.

What Are You Telling Yourself?

2 Kings 5 tells the entertaining and interesting story of Naaman. Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army who also happened to be a leper. His wife’s handmaid, a young Israelite, encouraged him to go see Elisha, the prophet in Samaria that she believed could heal him. After gathering what he thought he needed for the trip and arriving at Elisha’s front door, he found out things were not going to play out as he thought.

Elisha sent out a messenger to tell him to go and wash in the Jordan River seven times. Naaman didn’t think this was acceptable.

Naaman lost his temper. He turned on his heel saying, “I thought he’d personally come out and meet me, call on the name of God, wave his hand over the diseased spot, and get rid of the disease. The Damascus rivers, Abana and Pharpar, are cleaner by far than any of the rivers in Israel. Why not bathe in them? I’d at least get clean.” He stomped off, mad as a hornet. (MSG)

“I thought…I said to myself…I told myself.” 

Naaman had told himself what to expect based on his position and on his limited understanding of God’s prophets and their ways. When his expectations were not realized, his initial reaction was anger. His expectations were not realized because he had only talked with himself. 

You been there? I have. Built expectations on just what I thought, what I had told myself. No one else was in the conversation. No one. And it didn’t end well.

Not knowing the God of Israel, it’s understandable that Naaman would have to experience something like this to believe, to see his thoughts in a new light. Naaman had to learn that a life lived with only one conversation with yourself is limited and potentially hopeless. A better life, the one God desires for you, is found when you invite God and others into the conversation. When Naaman humbled himself, released his expectations and listened to someone else, then God was able to heal him.

What are you telling yourself? What if you always welcomed God into the conversation? I grow weary of telling myself anything. I’d rather God tell me everything, be in charge, and meet his expectations.

3 Heart Tests

(A post for the church-going reader)

This morning we were reminded in our American church to pray for believers attending church in Pakistan earlier this morning where terrorists struck. Terror striking churches around the world has certainly found it’s way to American soil. We know this in our heads. I’m wondering if it’s made it to our hearts.

Here are three heart tests we could personally administer to check:

  1. The heart purity test: Why am I here? Would I be here if I lived in constant threat because of my faith? 
  2. The heart condition test: How did I prepare myself before coming? What do my expectations about my church experience say about my heart’s condition?
  3. The heart openness test: What’s my level of focus and attention and engagement? What’s the posture of my heart to what I’m hearing, seeing, and feeling?

We live out of what’s in our hearts. We worship only at the level of our heart’s pure and open condition. May we enter our gatherings with ready hearts.

The Gift of Balance: Marriage and Singleness (Part 2)

(This is part two of the fourth topic in a series on the subject of balance. It being the holidays, we thought titling this series the gift of balance seemed appropriate. By “we,” I’m referring to the series contributors. Joining me in this series are Mark Stanifer and Tonya Waechter. At the end of this post are suggested resources on this topic.)

John: Besides making decisions together and balancing giving and getting, what other commitments are their between you and your spouse?

Tonya: The hard and fast commitment to the Lord is certainly there. But I also believe in the strong commitment to grace and forgiveness. You are going to hurt each other; it’s part of human nature. So a commitment to give each other grace and to forgive is very important as well.

John:  Does that get easier?

Tonya:  We’ve been married over 25 years. I do feel like we’ve found a certain rhythm. It’s interesting though, because it feels like we are coming back to the beginning-getting into emptynesting.  We spent the first five years without children, so we had a lot of time together to hangout and be spontaneous. Now we are getting back to that. Parenting for us had different stressors because we saw the world so differently. So now flexing that muscle is a little easier.

Mark: I wish I could say it’s gotten easier for us. I still resist the apology.  In fact, in some ways I’m more quick to give apologies to my kids than to my spouse.  I don’t know what that is. My wife is always so graceful and forgiving. You would think with all the mistakes I’ve made and the opportunities I’ve had to apologize that it would get easier, yet there is still that resistance like, “I don’t won’t to have to admit that I made a mistake, that I could be wrong in this situation.”  All those things are me, not really the relationship. Maybe that’s more rough edges that still need to be smoothed out. We both recognize the importance of it and offer it fairly freely to each other, but it’s the coming to ask for it part that still requires swallowing the pride and just apologize.

Tonya: I wouldn’t say that’s been an easier thing for either of us either, but it’s amazing how much better it feels when you do it. It’s so freeing but so hard to do. It’s true for a lot of people. It’s hard to humble ourselves. It’s probably even harder for those of us in helping professions. We are supposed to know better. For me it was, I mean come on, I’m the therapist.  I’m supposed to do everything right. That’s just not the case.  We’re all human.  We’re all going to have issues. My favorite saying has always been, “Everybody has issues and the one who says they don’t have issues is a liar and that’s one of their issues. “ Acknowledging that is not always easy.

John: I know when forgiveness is challenging for me-not to ask for it but to give it-what I’ve learned about myself revolves around my expectations. Number one, I have unmet expectations of that person. Number two, my expectations were mine, they weren’t theirs. A lot of times I made up the expectations; we never talked about it, and they didn’t live up to it. All of that right there is on me. And the more I can look at it, “This is more your fault than their fault. You’re going to need to work on your own perception of them and lower it,” there’s where the grace comes in. I have to work at looking at them the same way God does.  I can’t have a higher standard than he does.

My challenge has been more about giving the forgiveness than asking for it, for that reason, which is a very judgmental perception.  I grew up with that, so it’s innate in me. I’m very quick to judge, very quick to create unagreed-upon expectations. Those are my things I have to deal with, not theirs.  And I’ve learned I need to say that to them. “I created an expectation here that we didn’t talk about, and we didn’t agree upon.  I am sorry for doing that.” And for me, by the time you get to that stage, I’ve usually totally forgotten about the thing that I was irritated by. “I don’t even remember what we are upset about here.” The core issue is that our relationship is built on some shifting sand.

Tonya: Expectations are huge. I love that my husband’s first question when I brought this up to him was, “What do you mean by balance?” Our expectations may be different. I think we have to talk through our expectations. “What does vacation look like? What does time together look like?” Not clarifying that is a big issue and gets a lot of people.

Mark:  The antidote to that is just communication.  And not just communication like what’s on the to-do list, but deeper communication. Going deeper into other issues is critical and healthy, and will relieve some of the pressure of these unmet expectations.  Creating the dialogue where you can talk about it is how relationships grow.  It’s critical.

Tonya: Communication is the number one thing that couples come into counseling for.  They say, “We need to improve our communication,” which usually means, “We fight alot.” There’s that balance of understanding we are different and we communicate differently. I like to tell the story of me and my husband.  I have a lot of words and he has very few.  So when I would ask him questions, I had to learn to be quiet, bite my tongue, and sit for a long time because it would take him a while to formulate the words he wanted to share. I had to learn patience. He didn’t talk like my dad; my dad’s a talker.  My husband is not. So I had to learn to accept him for who he is and give him that room.

John: So how has communication grown from when your first were married to now, twenty years later?

Tonya: In order to communicate well you have to make time.  The idea you can have quality relationship without quantity is just false.  You have to make time.  This comes back to how you balance time in your marriage.  I like the work of Joyce and Cliff Penner.  They talk a lot about the intimacy in a marriage.  They say that you need to have some eye-to-eye contact every day, whether that is hugging, embracing, even if it is just for a few minutes together.  They are also committed to praying together. So they focus on spiritual, emotional, and physical contact every day. They talk also about weekly time as a couple. I tell the couples I’m working with to find at least two to three hours a week that is just them.  Then that talk about once a quarter getting away together for a full day, then they talk about once a year going on a vacation just the two of you.  All those things are super important.  Time together helps build that communication.

Mark:  I asked my wife for her thoughts on this topic last night, and she came back to a couple of things that have been present with us.  The first is being intentional, which is exactly what you’re saying.  That’s a word that we use all the time, sometimes as a reminder, sometimes as an encourager. The other thing she said was more comical.  She said, “Remember when our kids were toddlers, and we couldn’t even communicate in complete sentences because of getting interrupted by screams, or something on the floor, or food flying across the table?  We couldn’t get a sentence out without being interrupted.”  That was difficult, but it comes back to being intentional to maintain the balance. Now the difficulty is it’s just different. As you progress through life together, the needs change.  Now we need to steal away together because our kids are older, they stay up later, and there’s not as many quiet places in the house that we can go.  It just changes, and you have to be able to dance with it.

Tonya: Those young years are some of the hardest and have the biggest strain on a marriage. I have vivid memories of my husband walking in the door from work, and all three of us being on the floor crying. Those were tough days. We also didn’t have the financial means to get away. But the intentionality was being there together. He came home, took over, gave me a break, and we were together in the kitchen with kids on our feet. Finding those moments in those years is possible.

Mark: The thought I have always used is maintaining a relationship is a lot like exercise. It doesn’t happen on its own.  If you don’t do it, you atrophy.  If you are doing it, you have to keep it up.  It’s not a one-and-done thing.

Tonya: I want to reemphasize the power of commitment. My parents were divorced multiple times along with other family members; that was my example. My husband comes from a family with no divorces.  So we made a commitment that divorce was not an option. Leaving was off the table.

John: Mark, when you compare this to exercise, I immediately think of goal setting.  So, I’m curious if goal setting is helpful, and how do you do it if it is.

Mark: That hasn’t been part of our equation. It is a little bit how we are wired.  For us it comes back to two things.  Number one, we were and are best friends. We had a long dating period and were able to develop a friendship that is just phenomenal. We’ve continued to maintain that friendship.  There is a natural desire and draw because of the depth of the friendship.  The other thing is going back to the commitment and intentionality of making this work.  We recognize that if we don’t there could be pretty tragic consequences, and we don’t want that.  We don’t want to let it get to the point that it’s on life support either; then it’s not benefiting either of us.

Tonya: I don’t know if it’s a goal or not, but we made the decision that we were going to be first. We were not only going to be able to say our priorities but walk our priorities. In the last five years, maybe we have some unwritten goals. We’ve talked about life after kids, things we’d like to do. Travel is a big things for both of us, so how do we set our finances up for that to happen. Neither of us relish the idea of retiring and setting around the house all day; that’ll never happen. My husband has some vision for mission work and different things, so those are goals to set up life that we haven’t necessarily sat down and written it out on paper.

Mark: One last thing about this topic I’d like to bring up is space for “me time.”  I’ve become more aware of this importance. It maybe more personality driven, but I definitely need time away from the kids and my spouse. It can take various forms in order for me to recharge, reset, unplug from some of the responsibilities. Recognizing and taking the opportunity helps maintain balance.

John: I’ve always maintained as a single person and in talking with other singles who may not be happy in their singles status, “If you can’t be happy in this status, I’m not so sure you’re going to be happy in a marital one. You better be able to figure out how to be happy in this state so you don’t bring stuff into a marriage that doesn’t need to be there.” 

Tonya: Figuring out what “me time” looks like is key.  I remember asking my husband, “Is there a night a week I can go away and do something that I would like to do?” And the same for him. That was important and gave us something to look forward to.

John: That relates to something I wanted to bring out from a singleness versus couple basis. I believe single people have to come to terms with living life outside of the expectations they believe others have of them to be like. I had to really work on it, and probably didn’t find the balance until about ten years ago, my late thirties. I finally stopped saying yes to things out of the mindset that an invitation to something meant I had to do it. Just because I may come across to some people as an extrovert doesn’t mean I am one and therefore must be one or continuously function as one. That took me a while, and I’m going to guess it probably takes single people longer than married couples. They don’t have to deal with this challenge under their roof.  I can do what I want at home and don’t have to figure this out with my spouse. A couple is forced into figuring this out. A single person is going to be much more balanced if they just own who they are and not try to live in the mindset, “Everybody expects me to do this, so I must need to do this.”

Tonya: It comes back to that expectation thing again. So we all have to get to that place of living for an audience of one.  How do we put God first?  We’re all constantly learning and growing in that area.  You’re right, I think it is more of a challenge for a single person.  My husband who is an introvert and has to have time away, I can notice when he’s getting frazzled.  I can say, “It seems you need a little break here.” We can see that in each other.  A single person has to monitor that on your own.  Of course, the Holy Spirit can speak to you and help you be okay with the possibility of someone being mad at you for not meeting their expectations.

 

Suggested Resources:

Mark’s

Tonya’s

 

 

Perhaps 

“Now you, son of man, get your bags ready for exile and go into exile in their sight during the day. You will go into exile from your place to another place while they watch; perhaps they will understand, though they are a rebellious house.” Ezekiel 12:3

Perhaps is a descriptive word. It usually paints a negative picture, like there isn’t much of a chance. So when Ezekiel is given this task with this clarification, he has an interesting choice ahead of him. The choice is, what is his mindset going to be as he follows through.

From my experience, I’m not sure most, if not all, of God’s directives involving ministering to others shouldn’t be entered into with this mentality. Why? There are no guarantees. Just because you come in the name of the Lord doesn’t guarantee you or your message will be received at all, let alone as a message from the Lord. And how they respond, if your message is delivered as directed, has nothing to do with you.

Perhaps will keep you.

Perhaps will protect you.

Perhaps will direct you.

Perhaps will humble you.

Perhaps will focus you.

Perhaps leaves it all up to your director.

3 Checks to Controlling Yourself 

In the last 12 hours, I’ve had three conversations around the subject of control. One was with myself; it happens when you wake up an hour before the alarm.

The interesting core of these conversations had to do with being frustrated or anxious. And every one of them found the same end that the cause of the frustration and anxiety was trying to control something that was out of their control.

We’ve all been there. “Why can’t they do it this way?” “What if they get mad?” “How come she gets better reviews they I get?” Before we drive ourselves to losing control, maybe we can check ourselves and, in a sense, own our control issues rather than trying to control things that we really can’t.

Check #1-Check your Expectations. Ask these questions:

  • Whose expectations are these?
  • Who agreed to these expectations?
  • What should my expectations be and what am I basing them on?
  • What happens if my expectations don’t get met? Who is going to care besides me?
  • What happens if my expectations do get met? Who is going to care besides me?

Check #2-Check your Opportunities. Ask these questions:

  • How might this relationship grow?
  • What might I learn today?
  • What other perspectives have I not considered?
  • How could I cultivate gratitude?
  • How can I show respect?

Check #3-Check your Fears. Ask these questions:

  • What if love drove me more than fear?
  • What can I find to affirm rather than judge?
  • How can I connect with them rather than hide from them?
  • What fears need to hear me say, “Yes”?
  • What fears need to hear me say, “No”?

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind.” 2Timothy 1:7

Fruity Fridays: Level-Headed Transitioning

(A series about the Fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5)

entry by Eric Vorhies 
I spent the last month thinking about how to define patience. Here’s what I came up with: The ability to transition from expectation to reality while remaining level-headed. 

  • Expectation: Drive home from work in a timely manner…and on a good day, hit only green lights

Reality: Stuck in traffic because there is an accident on the other side of the interstate that people are slowing down to see

  • Expectation: Go to bed at a decent hour

Reality: Three kids

  • Expectation: Living a long and healthy life

Reality: Getting diagnosed with cancer

  • Expectation: To be trusted by people in your workplace

Reality: The boss micromanages your every move in the most obnoxious way possible

Last one, 

  • Expectation: The person closest to you should understand you the best

Reality: The closer someone is to you the more monumental small misunderstandings will be

Patience isn’t always about just waiting for external forces to align properly. Most of the time it is about internally disassembling our expectations so that we can pick up the pieces and deal with reality. 
The more we lean on God, the more we allow the Holy Spirit to lead us, the quicker we can go through this process -whether it is a seemingly small thing such as trying to understand what your two-year-old is saying through his tears of frustration, or a rather large thing such as waiting to hear back about medical test results which will be delivered at the rapid pace of six weeks.

But I don’t need to go on about moments in life that may or may not cause some of you to become impatient. I want to share the best way that I know how to deal with potential impatience, or even active impatience.

“In the meantime” – this is the process of doing something different than what you had specifically planned to do. For instance, stuck in traffic? You planned on cruising right home, but you can’t. So, in the meantime, listen to some great podcasts…and learn a ton of stuff that you wouldn’t have made time for otherwise. Can’t land that dream job? In the meantime, land any job in the same field. Waiting with a four-year-old to get your tires aligned? In the meantime, get off your phone and play with him rather than expect him to stay entertained (that one was for me).

The thing that is really happening in these situations is that we are shifting our goals in the gap between our expectations and our reality. Your goal isn’t to get home as quickly as possible. Netflix isn’t going anywhere. Just get home safely and when you can, and if possible enjoy the ride. Dream job – maybe your goal should be to find a job that will lead you to the job that will lead you to the job that you really want. And while at Tires Plus, my goal shouldn’t be to kill time as much as it should be how to make the most of my time. 

One last story to drive this point home. Many couples have the goal to get pregnant and have kids. Some couples struggle to achieve this. I have some friends that had that exact problem. But at some point in the process, they took advantage of the “in the meantime” moments. They were able to use their struggle as part of their testimony, to grow more intimate with God, to lead other people through the same problem. Then one day, in glorious fashion, they became parents. But in order to do this, they had to shift their goal…or maybe, they figured out what their goal really was. That glorious fashion wasn’t due to a pregnancy ending in a delivery room experience. It was before a judge in a small courtroom in a small town. In the meantime, they changed their approach. They still became the best parents ever, but it just wasn’t how most couples do it. Because of their dependence on and trust in God, they were able to transition from expectation to reality. 

The greatest example of this that I see in the Bible is written in Romans 5.8, “But God proves His own love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

  • Expectation: To live in relationship with God.

Reality: We couldn’t do it. 

  • Expectation: Sinners pay for their sins.

Reality: God’s patience paved the way for the sacrifice of Christ.

What if God Doesn’t Meet My Expectations?

   

In his book The Prisoner in the Third Cell, Gene Edwards makes you face this question. That’s a good thing. Why? Because all of mankind has silently or openly asked it but not all have dared to stop and determine their answer.

Edwards makes you face this question by telling the story of John the Baptist. His was definitely a unique life. And at the end of it, he had questions that we can’t be certain he found satisfactory answers before his life was disregardly taken.

Other biblical characters faced the same challenge-Joseph, Job, Peter, Elijah, Ruth, Mary, Noah, Jonah, John, to name a few. Some of these were graciously granted a resurrected view of God before they died, but even that cannot be guaranteed to anyone who places their faith in God.

And therein is the core of the question. How deep is your faith? When your finite expectations are tested by an infinite God, what do you do? Will you continue to follow? If you want to be challenged to meditate further on these questions, this book is a good resource. If you can’t answer yes to the blog title question, this book should be in your next-to-read pile.

3 “Wows” for Jamie

Jamie, Jamie, Jamie…Wow, Wow, Wow!  Occasionally someone goes so far beyond your expectations that all you can muster to say is, “Wow!” But you deserve three of them.

Yesterday, we (First Baptist Church, Bradenton) brought you an order for over 320 pairs of shoes to the Payless Shoe store you manage. Sure, we had given you a headsup a few days earlier. Sure, you were probably excited to receive this order. But, who knew you would turn it around so fast and so efficiently.

We left the order with you just before 1pm. You hinted you’d probably have it ready sometime this weekend. So the first “Wow” was earned when you called just four hours later to say you were done. Who does that? Well, apparently you do.

We arrived at the store to pick up the order. You had kept the order separated by girl and boy shoes, two separate carts. You had them lined up on the cart so that each shoe box was faced out so you could read the bar code with the register wand. You and your young employee shot through the ringing up and bagging of those 320 boxes like, “Yeah, this is normal.” And you paused to complete other customer’s purchases, as you should have, while using the only register in your store. So professional. So thorough. And you helped us load all those shoes in our vehicles. “Wow!”

But the biggest “Wow” goes to your graciousness. You knew the purpose of this order was to help us help local students at our partner school, Ballard Elementary. You had thought about how to help us with the cost. And the answer was through the BOGO sale going on. You could have ignored that for such a large order. You could have delayed completing the order to avoid giving us the discount. Instead, you brought it to our attention; we didn’t even notice that a sale was going on. You saved us over $1,200. Who does that? Jamie at Payless does.

Thank you, Jamie, for your efficiency, your courtesy, your heart, and your grace. God used you to “Wow” us yesterday. Keep “Wowing” your customers. Then may God bless you and show you His own “Wow!”