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.

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?

Pray First

(Day 11 of a 28-day series from First Bradenton)

“You can do more than pray after you have prayed, but you cannot do more than pray until you have prayed.” (S. D. Gordon)

Does it really matter what the order is in spiritual disciplines for the Christian? I believe it does – not because of what some man said, but because Jesus himself emphasized that prayer is of first importance.

A soldier does not go into battle without proper equipment and preparation. Yet we as believers sometimes feel that we can engage the enemy on our own, without prayer. Jesus reminded Peter that self-sufficiency would not result in success. He warned him,

“Simon, Simon, look out. Satan has asked to sift you like wheat. But I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail.” (Luke 22:31-32)

Upon entering the Garden of Gethsemane, the Lord told his disciples,

“Pray that you may not fall into temptation.” (Luke 22:40)

In Matthew 26:36 and in Mark 14:32, his additional word to them was to sit there while he prayed. Upon taking Peter, James, and John farther, he told them,

“Remain here and stay awake with me.” (Matthew 26:38)

Notice that he did not say that they should get up and take action right then. They were to sit, or remain, until after prayer. Jesus knew the battle that he, and they, were facing, and how desperately they needed to pray and wait. He also knows exactly the trials and temptations that come to us. Yet, how often have we decided that we must act immediately, rather than remain and pray first?

Even the very Son of God realized that his own struggles required prayer and dependence on his Father. He knew that he faced horrible persecution and death. Consequently, he asked His Father to remove his cup of suffering if there could be another way for our forgiveness. Then in submission, he prayed, “

…nevertheless, not my will, but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42)

Not only must we pray in times of temptation, but also when facing trials. I recall that once in the wee hours of the night, I realized that morning would bring an event with which I totally disagreed, but over which I had no control. I was in dire need of the strength my heavenly Father would provide as I prayed. It happened just as I had feared, but the Lord gave me strength. Likewise, he provided for all my needs in the days to come, as the trial continued. Then in his perfect timing, he brought about the best solution.

Each of us has encountered many and various trials, just as the Book of James tells us to expect. Times of suffering, disappointment, failure, illness, death, financial problems, family situations, and tough decisions will come. Our assurance is that our Father knows them ahead of time. He will provide wisdom, comfort, peace, and even joy, in the midst of these, when we trust him and take them to him in prayer.

“Jesus knows our every weakness
Take it to the Lord in prayer.”

Joseph Scriven – “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”

By Pat Browning

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:





Grace Equality

When we read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7), we come across his teaching on prayer that we call the Lord’s Prayer.  There is a lot to learn from that section of the sermon.

One of those subjects is forgiveness. When we pray “forgive us as we forgive,” I’m not sure we fully appreciate the level of forgiveness in that thought. And I’m pretty confident we fail to appreciate the amount of grace it requires.

One test we can administer to check our personal understanding of grace is found in this question: Do I give others the same amount of grace that I give myself?

For example, when we decide to give ourselves grace to eat whatever we want for the 96 hours of Thanksgiving, do we give that same grace to others we observe eating whatever they choose for one meal at the “all you can eat” special on a random day in August? Or when someone messes up on the job, do we give them the same amount of grace that we give ourselves when we mess up?

Taking this a step further in the direction of Jesus’ teaching, what if we practiced giving grace at the level we have received it?  He taught more about this in another passage recorded by Matthew, chapter 18. Verses 21-35 tell the story of a guy who was forgiven a $100,000 debt, yet he wouldn’t forgive a $10 debt showing he didn’t know how to give grace even though he had received it. ALERT: This guy had a grace equality problem!

Not sure about your grace equality? Try test number two. When’s the last time you had to work really hard to give grace to someone?  Compare that to the last time you gave yourself grace and that difficulty level. What’s the gap between the two and what’s it going to take to close it?

Here’s a suggested addition to your daily prayer: “Father, thank you for your endless grace. Deepen my understanding of it. Grow my grace equality.”

Stop Swiping That Card

Last night “my boy” Aaron and I went to a movie at a theater on International Drive in Orlando. Parked in a garage where you had to get a card to park. No person at a booth. Pretty normal city life thing, right?

One would think. Except there were all these signs all over the garage telling you to pay at these pay-with-credit kiosks. To the outoftowner, confusing. Am I supposed to pay now or when I leave? What’s with all the kiosks?

So we asked the movie ticket seller how it works, paying for parking that is. She said, “There’s a scanner on the wall around the corner where you validate your card.” Found it; got validated.

My understanding and assumption was that validation meant the system knew why I had parked in the garage, and I’d pay at a booth or kiosk when I left. Paying for parking confusion solved.

So imagine my surprise after the movie when I’m at the garage exit swiping my validated card at another scanner with credit card in hand prepared to pay when I don’t actually have to pay anything. I was intently staring at the scanner, swiping my card over and over, looking for some light to go off or message to appear saying, “Insert card for payment.”

“My boy” Aaron jolted me out of my overswiping when he said, “Hey, the arm is up. You can go. It validated your card.” I turned my eyes away from the scanner, and, sure enough, I was free to exit.

“Oh. I don’t have to pay. Validation meant the movie ticket was the payment. Got it.”

This scenario reminds me how we can be confused about seeking forgiveness for sin from God. 

We are constantly figuring out how to “cover it” or “pay for it.” 

We have a validated card in our wallet and don’t even know its power. 

We can walk through life still thinking, “I hope when I leave, I’ve got what I need to pay for my time here, that I haven’t screwed this all up.” 

And we can stand there at the scanner swiping and swiping and swiping, praying over and over and over again hoping God is listening, and the whole time he is saying, “Stop swiping that card. Take your eyes off the scanner. Look up. I’ve already taken care of it a long time ago. Move on.”

Fruity Fridays: Extreme Love

I heard on a podcast this week that one word being used today to describe Christians by those outside of the faith is extreme. So in thinking about writing a post about the first fruit of the spirit (love), I asked myself a question: what kind of extreme love shows all observers that something supernatural is being produced? Here are two illustrations:

1. Forgiveness to the drunk driver who killed a family member

2. Traveling around the world twice to adopt a child

If after watching these videos the thought comes to you, “Wow! Those are moving stories. But I don’t think I have something that extreme to offer.” Allow me to pushback, please.

Anything that challenges you to go against yours or other’s norms is up for consideration when it comes to defining extreme. 

  • Husbands, it probably sounds extreme to some of you to hear that some husbands have chosen to do the laundry for the family, not because they love doing laundry but because this is how they’ve been led to produce the fruit of love in their home. 
  • Divorcees, it probably sounds extreme to some of you to hear that some remarried spouses actually engage with former spouses by traveling together, assisting financially, or routinely showing genuine care in various ways, not because they love the tension of past baggage but because this is how they’ve been led to produce the fruit of love in their family.
  • Employers, it probably sounds extreme to some of you to hear that some employers have chosen to not take raises or take a “usual” salary for someone in their position, not because they love living paycheck to paycheck but because this is how they’ve been led to produce the fruit of love to their employees and for their company.

Love should be extreme. Spirit-filled love should surely be extreme. Here’s a challenge-ask yourself this question in a form of a prayer and see what happens: “Holy Spirit, how/where and to whom can you produce extreme love through me? What will you do through me for which the only explanation could be extreme, supernatural love?”

Fruity Fridays: Love=A New Commandment

by Danny Bote

If you do a quick internet search on the word love, you will find many definitions. Most definitions that you will find are in regards to love being a feeling, a strong affection toward someone, a physical attraction to someone, or a person that you have romantic feelings about. 

But what does Scripture define love as? When Galatians 5 says that love is a fruit of the Spirit, what does that mean and look like? Let’s begin by taking a look in the gospel of John. Jesus says in John 13:34: “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another…” 

Have you ever wondered why Jesus says this is a new commandment? Isn’t that the purpose of the last six of the Ten Commandments, to love others? How is it after thousands of years after the law was given and written that Jesus is saying this is “a new commandment”?

You see, Jesus isn’t saying this is a brand new, unknown commandment, but that he is showing what it is actually supposed to look like in practice (a fruit). How is he teaching and showing us? Let’s look at the context in which this verse is found. 

Jesus gives this “new commandment” during the evening in which he was washing the disciples’ feet (which in and of itself, is incredible! The CREATOR of the UNIVERSE washing dirt off of the feet of those who are about to desert him as he gets arrested). After the foot washing, with a deeply troubled spirit, Jesus tells the disciples that one of them will betray him and that it’s the disciple to whom he gives the dipped piece of bread. He proceeds to give the bread to Judas, and then Satan enters Judas. Judas leaves, and the disciples still don’t know what’s going on; they just think he went to go get the moneybag and buy something for the feast or give to the poor. Right when Judas leaves Jesus gives this “new commandment.”

So, what do we learn from this account and message on love in John 13? 

First, we love others. Don’t skip over that too fast. It doesn’t say we love those who love us, or believe like us, or like us. We love others. We love those who betray us, believe differently than us, hate us and maybe even potentially kill us one day. Christ knew all along who was going to betray him from his inner circle; yet he still loved him, served him and washed his feet. It is obvious that Judas was never saved, but Christ still loved him and served him unconditionally. 

Second, before we judge Judas and others, we must realize that we all were at one time, or still are, enemies of God. And Christ died for his enemies. Romans 5:10-11 states; “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. 11 More than that, we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” 

So, who are your enemies? Is it your spouse? Child? An ex-spouse? Old friend? Co-worker? Boss? Political enemy? Someone from a different religion? We are to express the love of Christ to our enemies. 

Jesus then continues his explanation of love by saying this in verse 35, “By this (love for one another) all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” 

Do people know that you are a Christ-follower? How are they to know? 

  • By your love, service, and sacrifice for all people. 
  • When people see that you love your fellow Christ-follower as well as your enemy. 
  • When you serve and forgive all people-those who are in your inner circle and those who hate you and want to kill you. 

Then, ALL PEOPLE will know that you are a disciple of Jesus. He doesn’t say that all people will come to salvation because of the expression of love, but that when they see you and the way you love, forgive, sacrifice, and serve, other people will KNOW that you are a Christ-follower.

Then we must be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks us for the reason of the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). If this fruit of the Spirit is being expressed in our lives, we will have the opportunity to share with people what and who true love is-Jesus Christ.

The Four Laws of Forgiveness (Book review)

This is my second read of this book by Brad Johnson. And, by the way, nice to read it on my kindle to see my previous highlights and compare what stood out to me this time.

First, this is a quick read. Good for anyone looking for a “to the point” reference on this subject. Also good for a “reminder” read. We all need to have a habit of forgiveness. This book can not only give the first step toward that habit but also can provide checkpoints for the ongoing routine.

Chapter 4 stood out to me in this read. Johnson’s fourth law deals with risks and reward. These are his three principles for this law:

  1. Risk can be godly
  2. Vulnerability can be godly
  3. The rewards of forgiveness are great

Did God show his love and give his life before or after you and I chose to love him? He did it before, which was a risk. He had no assurance we would ever love him back.

I needed this reminder. Like Jesus (NT) and Joseph (OT), godliness includes risk and vulnerability. As believers, we have access to the same power that produced the rewards of their risk and vulnerability. We can forgive.

4 Lessons from “The Loving Father” Parable (also called “The Prodigal Son” parable)

The parable found in Luke 15 focuses mostly on the actions of the younger son.  Yet, when you consider the dad’s reactions, there are several relationship lessons to glean.  Here are four of them:

  • Cold, Reckless Behavior Hurts but Doesn’t Change Unconditional Love

The son’s request was premature. His message might as well have been, “I wish you were dead.” The only recorded reaction from the father is his granting the request. Hurtful words and actions may challenge but will not alter unconditional love.

  • Be Ready to Forgive

Forgiveness can be immediate when requested if the heart has been prepared to give it.  The sooner the preparation begins the sooner the loving reaction will be available.  The opportunity may be a long time coming; love is patient and can stay ready to forgive.

  • Initiate Restoration

Forgiveness can lead to full restoration.  The fullness degree can be greatly impacted if the forgiving party initiates the restoration.  The time needed to complete the restoration can be shortened when the forgiver initiates its beginning.

  • Never Stop Loving Rebels, Hostile or Hidden

Not all rebels are cold and reckless.  The rebellion style may alter the method of forgiveness and restoration, yet the character of love can remain.  Love endures.