Relational Poverty

When I was a youth pastor, I’d take annual foreign mission trips with my students. And leading up to the trip we’d have training and prep to do. Of the many talks we would have, one in particular was about the difference between relative poverty and absolute poverty.

One shows a poverty existing only in comparison to what you possess/own.
The other is a state of poverty in which a person/people have no capability to live.

And sure enough, while on the trip, I’d have one-on-one conversations with students who were struggling seeing people who had food, shelter, and family BUT didn’t possess what (in their American mindset) was anything suitable for their personal standard for living. They’d see children playing and families singing but couldn’t wrap their minds around how they could possess that type of heart without the “possessions” that make us Americans comfortable.

I miss those trips with students.
I miss de-briefing with them.
I miss hearing how much they learned about what really matters in the Kingdom of God.
I miss seeing them begin to engage in their worlds because their faith deepened from leaving for a week, unplugging from the world they knew, and plugging into community and mission.

But there’s another type of poverty that I see growing. I’ll call it, “relational poverty.” we live in a day and age of loneliness and isolation. We live in a time of having thousands of social media friends and followers but nobody to have a conversation with. We’ve replace handshakes and hugs with “likes” and “favorites.” One on end, someone feels like they’ve reached out because they clicked a button on a status. On the other end, a person searches for something else to post in order to get their next stimulating fix from social media attention.

We don’t have an absence of connection; we have an absence of contact.

We live in an age of relational poverty. We know a lot of people. But we don’t really know them” and/or nobody really knows us.

This has been something I’ve pondered over the past month in our series on faith here at Kfirst called “The 13th Floor.” We’ve been exploring what faith is and how to operate in it. And as I’m going over a number of study-notes I see a small bullet point I typed out a few months ago that caught my eye:

“Faith grows best in community.”

What does this have to do with relational poverty? Everything.

From the beginning of time, we were created to be in community/relationship with others and with God. And the results of the “original sin” was to attack those relationships (blame each other and God) and to isolate (hide) ourselves. No wonder why God said “it is not good for man to be alone.” I believe this was more than a statement about marriage but a state of our being. We were created to be in and operate in relationship with others.

And I truly believe that’s where faith grows best.

It’s no wonder that one of the greatest attacks to faith in Christ in an age of over-connection is to impoverish us of relationships. We can’t find unity of faith in denominations because we live in constant criticism of others. We can’t celebrate faith because we envy what someone else has been blessed with. We have immature faith because we do not seek out the mentorship (spiritual fathers and mothers) of those who’ve gone before us. We can’t develop faith though dialogue because we haven’t learned how to disagree “agreeably” on surface issues and live in agreement on the foundational things of Jesus. We can’t pass on faith  because we’re too busy attacking/despising another generation instead of celebrating what makes the other distinct so that we can learn from each other.

I believe in being a person of prayer. I believe in being in the Scriptures daily. I believe in living a life of worship. Those are necessary for nourishing the soul. But without relationships, I would truly question how can faith actually exist and grow.

Why do I still believe in the Church? Because my faith isn’t in the Church but in Jesus. And because my faith is in Jesus, it allows me to navigate relationships without the expectations in people who I should have in Christ alone. He is the “author” of my faith (Hebrews 12:1), and He “perfects” grows it. And I believe that faith growth happens best in community.

And it’s in the community of Church that my faith is challenged and deepened by interacting with people of various backgrounds and generations. It’s in those relationships I can celebrate what God is doing in others to give me challenge and hope for my own faith. I find my faith grown as I sit with others in dialogue and civil conversation. I find my faith strengthened when I see people of a variety of color, nationality, background, and economics come together under the name of Jesus.

Would you take a huge step of faith this week? Make a relational initiation of contact with someone. Sit for coffee or a meal with someone you don’t normally connect with. Find someone of a younger generation to learn from. Find a peer to sit with an encourage. Call up someone of an older generation and inquire of their story. Seek out someone of a difference race to listen and learn.

Get in community. Watch the level of relational poverty diminish and faith rise in His Church.

 

Love you all. Praying for you.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

My Marriage Got Hacked: 4 Questions to Un-Hack Your Marriage

My wife and I were having a discussion the other day about a specific social media post we see all too often. It says something to the fact of,

Sorry everyone. My account somehow got hacked. Ignore any messages from me. 

Some people get legitimately “hacked.” And that is something to NOT take light of. It happens to thousands (if not millions) of people. “Hacking” is what happens when an outside entity tries to get gain unauthorized access to a system. Simply said: an outside source wants to work and manipulate its way inside to wrestle control from you.

What I find, more often than not, is the circumstance doesn’t constitute “hacking.” The person authorized someone/something. It could have been done by simply clicking a link and/or ignorantly agreed to allow access to their personal social media account by the game/forum/article he/she was checking out. In other words, you granted permission to something and didn’t realize how much access, liberty, and control the entity was going to take.

Do you see the difference? One situation is about something trying to get inside that doesn’t belong. The other is something that doesn’t belong but has been granted permission to come inside.

That’s when the litany of social posts come. Frustration. Embarrassment. Anger. All of it brewing out of the misunderstanding that you were “hacked.” When in reality, you may not have had an external “hostile takeover” but an unanticipated result from a guest you invited in. Don’t be surprised by the fruit of what you’ve given access to.  Don’t be freaked out when you see something happen from what you allowed in.

There is so much truth to grasp, not just in our social media experience, but in our marriage. I wonder how many relationships are inviting unanticipated and/or unnecessary challenges, not because of the natural differences between a husband and wife, but by the “entities” that have been authorized access. To name a few,

  • If you listen gossip, don’t be surprised when bitterness starts to gain access.
  • If you entertain envy, don’t be surprised when contentment dies.
  • If you indulge in isolation tactics, don’t be surprised when the “feelings” of love begins to wain.
  • If you foster cynicism, don’t be surprised when you can’t discover hope.
  • If you allow pornography, don’t be surprised when intimacy begins to deteriorate.
  • If you entertain unforgiveness, don’t be surprised when trust never gets rebuilt.

Perhaps before we have a response that says, “I don’t know how this happened but ________ has been going on,” we should turn inward. It’s easy to pick off the “fruit” of what you are seeing. It’s a who other thing to get to the roots of what is creating the fruit. Ask yourself:

  • Did I allow this inside?
    • Change begins with humility. And asking this question isn’t about dealing with things on your own but approaching every marriage situation, not with the assumption that “it’s got to be someone else” but from a place that says, “it could be my fault” or “I may have played a part in this.”  Humility is what causes our lives to be pliable in the hands of the Lord. The “we” of the marriage is much easier to shape if the “me” is contrite enough to approach it.
  • Where did the issue get access?
    • It’s easier to understand the depth an unhealthy marital issue or habit if you can identify the source fueling it. What is feeding it? Where is it happening? How did it start? Think of it like a boat taking on water. It’s pointless to get the water out of the boat if you do nothing about the leak. Find the access point and, together, deal with it.
  • What can WE do to move out of this?” 
    • Again, marriage issues are “we” issues.  The point of starting with “personal” humility is for both the husband and wife to have shapable hearts that will work with each other and for the health of the marriage.  Even in a case for which one spouse has some personal issues to navigate through, he/she shouldn’t feel like they’re doing it alone. As scripture says, the “two become one.” Make sure there is a sense that “we are moving forward together” and not “you need to do this.”
  • How do WE guard ourselves? How do WE grow from here?
    • They say the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Don’t just go about your marriage “business as usual.” Grow forward by making some tweaks and changes. When you see bad “fruit,” picking the fruit off doesn’t deal with the root issues. So stepping back and developing a plan of attack is paramount to marital maturity.

We can continue to defer our marriage issues as getting “hacked” as if someone/something has invaded our marriage and brought the lack of health we are experiencing. Sometimes there are just natural differences between husbands and wives that are needing to be worked through. Many times, we need to step back into humility and see that there may be the potential of something being the fruit of what we allowed access into our relationship.

Love you all. Praying for husbands and wives today as you work through, together, some root issues and see greater marital health grow.

Encourage effort.
Celebrate progress.
Feed hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: Check out my book. Click on the link below.

The Carryover: 4 Ways to Approach What You Carried Into Marriage

I had a realization about 9 years ago. At the time, my daughter was in fourth grade and I was staring at her homework and it hit me: Cammi’s math had exceeded my abilities. I could no longer help her.

I’d love to say this is some sort of exaggeration, but sadly, no. Once her math started getting into algebra, my separation from learning algebra, and my lack of using it, had weakened my skills in it.

SIDE NOTE: That thought, in and of itself, is a huge marriage lesson. You can’t expect your marriage to be strong in something you are separating from and/or not exercising. Don’t be surprised by weakened areas that have been ignored.

Sorry…back to the original post. #ADDBlogger

Quite often, when I’m dealing with couples young in their marriage (not necessarily young couples), what they see as relationship issues are really “math issues.” You’ve added two people together and there’s some “carry over.” Let me explain.

When I think back to the elementary math lessons of my youth, I learned to add numbers together by starting with the rightmost digits and working to the left. When the numbers on the right added to more than 10, I’d “carry over” or transfer to the next column of digits. That number is called the “carry.” (Enter a math scripture.)

This explains why a man leaves his father and mother and is joined to his wife, and the two are united into one. Genesis 2:24

This simple marital math equation is a largely ignored. Genesis is giving us an equation. 1 + 1 = *1. Even in the name “Genesis” we get the reasoning for this odd piece of mathematics. When two lives (husband and wife) come together in marriage there is a genesis (beginning, start, origin) happening. But the asterisk tells us something is attached. What is that? The carry over. You can’t add two people, with all of their history, personality, quirks, hurts, and abilities and not have anything carry over into the oneness of marriage. 

When I Anne and I got married in 1998. We married the person and everything that came with them. Family. Friends. Temperament. Idiosyncrasies. It doesn’t mean those can’t or won’t change, but having that on your radar does help you know the type of “hand you’ve been dealt.”

I can’t stress that enough to pre-married couples. One of the many great reasonings for premarital counseling is to create avenues to find out what you both are carrying into your marriage. Ignorance isn’t “bliss” and discovering what you both are “carrying over” isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it will help you navigate through your future together.

Why do I stress good decisions as a single individual? Why do I encourage good preparation before marriage? Why do I tell people to get in a healthy mindset and/or get some healing before marriage? Because of the carry over. You don’t leave yourself behind when you get married, you bring “you” forward. Marriage doesn’t solve issues, it magnifies them. And it’s not all the “bad” that gets magnified. Personalities, habits, expectations, and the like all get amplified. It’s the natural result of two lives becoming and operating as one.

Today’s marriage blog isn’t about rescuing you from this. This article is written to help navigate through it.

Get real with where you are at. 
When I want to get somewhere on my map app, it doesn’t matter if I find where I want to go until I identify where I am currently located. First, you need to personally ask yourself about what carried over with you from your past.  It could be from your single life. It could be from your family. Perhaps, there could be something lingering from a past relationship. What you’ll find may or may not be inherently good or bad. For example, sometimes you carry over a style of living that is drastically different from your spouse. It’s not a matter of wrong or right, but the difference in styles have created a challenge. And ignoring it will do nothing. Recognizing it as a starting place to see the style you both brought and seeing how to shape what you have.

Second, have a talk as a couple about things that you’ve identified as “carry over items.” From habits to hurts, be willing to admit those challenging areas. For example, perhaps your family celebrated holidays or special events differently than your spouse’s family does. That may not seem like a huge deal to you, but it’s the little things that have the tendency to develop resentment and/or bitterness in hearts. And inner resentment over small items grow into relational infection. As I say so often, the only way to deal with unhealthy things that grow in darkness is to bring them into the light. And exercising humility and resolve can be the catalyst for you to propel into marital health.

Third, pick one area to work on. Couples HATE when I tell them to work on just one thing. There’s this idea that if we can create relational busyness and think it’s the same as relational effectiveness. Dealing with five items may make you “feel” like you are being productive, but in reality, nothing is getting better. I want you to work smarter and not harder. Pick one that you can work on together and build some marital momentum.

Lastly, keep up your radar. I find the older I get, the more like my father I am. It’s not a bad thing as I think the world of my dad. But it reminds me of this: It doesn’t matter my age, I still “carry over” from my past. As much as I’ve been with Anne longer (23 years together; 19 married), than I’ve known life without her, there is side of me that still lingers. And daily, I have to make a choice to not take my marriage for granted but do my best to walk in the oneness God has called me into.

Have you carried anything over from your past into your marriage? Congrats, you’re human. And because both you and your spouse are human, you can’t ignore the “carry over,” you need to navigate and grow through it.

Love you all. Praying for you.

Encourage effort.
Celebrate progress.
Feed hope.

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: Check out my book. Click on the link below.

 

 

 

Pastoring in a Vacuum: 4 Ways to Invite Much Needed Connection

In my backpack, apart from my laptop, you’ll find 3 essentials. My iPad, my journal, and a book I’m reading (don’t judge me for not saying “bible” as it’s always accessible on my phone and/or tablet). The reasons for these three:

  • My iPad for my bible and my tunes
  • A book positions me to be stretched and deepened.
  • My journal position to process what I am learning and write down what God is speaking to me.

(Why I journal and why you should consider it.)

In my latest read, “Divine Direction” by Craig Groeschel, I’m working on some things to help mentor young adults. But chapter 6 has really hammered me hard on something that I find far too many pastors struggle with: Connection.

He says,

“…consider the three types of friends everyone needs to reach their God-given potential: (1) a friend to challenge you and bring out your best, (2) a friend to help you find strength in God and to grow in your faith, and (3) a friend to tell you the truth, especially when you don’t want to hear it.” (pg. 152)

This was a “selah” moment. Honestly, I found myself setting down my book and sending out intentional texts of encouragement to a few pastors that have been those 3 key relationships to me.

But please know…This was not how I started ministry.

Yes I had “friends.” But to allow or invite friends on all three of those levels is a whole other issue. I can say, in those first couple years, I only had a “version” of the #2 type of friends. They were the people I ran to in the challenging times. But that was it. It wasn’t that I didn’t possess any other type of friend. The reality was, I was guarded regarding others. My insecurities kept me from asking for too much help or, in some cases, allowing others to help. I found some semblance of satisfaction in “figuring it out myself” while longing for community and mentorship. Back then I called it “work ethic.” 20 years later, I call it for what it really was: pride.

Operating in a vacuum (isolation), unfortunately, is how a number of pastors operate in ministry. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate the situations that my fellow co-laborers experience. For some, geography is a challenge. You feel so far away from friendships and denominational connections that the locational disconnect translates into relational chasms. Maybe like me, you have, what I would call, a “genetic” challenge. I term myself as a “nurtured extrovert.” By nature, I’m shy and very quiet, and thus, became my excuse to not reach out. Now-a-days, my wife wonders why  I have to engage in conversation with random strangers in the mall.  For others, age is a huge relational issue. I can appreciate being the only minister in the room from one particular generation and you long for a peer to connect with.  Then there are “situational” challenges. I totally get wanting to find someone who is in a similar place in ministry who shares either a similar place of ministry or a specific season in the life of a church.  I know, personally, I love finding other pastors and churches who have walked similar paths and/or tracking along where I see and envision Kfirst.

But regardless of the challenge, we (ministers) have to power through and to intentionally engage in community. We were divinely designed to live in community. I get how busy you are. But there are times we are so busy doing “good” things that we, many times, can miss out on the “best” things. And, in my limited experiential opinion, operating in relationship as a minister is one of those “best” things we cannot ignore. As my mentor has said to me in so many occasions,

“The enemy works in isolation; God works in community.”

If we expect our congregations to work in community, we ought to practice it first. How dare we ask people to do something we refuse to live out. Relationships is what I have discovered is a phenomenal way to have both healthy ministry and longevity in ministry (positions and vocation). It’s time to lay down our pride. It is time to toss aside our insecurities with the local “competition” (other churches). You were not built for seclusion; you have been created to grow and live in community.

So how can we do this in 2017? How does this practically look? These are not “ground breaking” ideas but they will position you to get out of your vacuum.

  1. Practice the PBT model.
    • Find a Paul (find a mentor or two).
    • Find a Timothy (find someone to disciple).
    • Find a Barnabas (find peers to encourage and be encouraged).
  2. Join a network.
    • Kfirst is part of the River Valley Network. I love that I get to interact with churches from all over the nation and develop a camaraderie with pastors from a variety of size churches and generations.
    • I am involved in some online FB groups. Though they are not a “network” per se, they have become a network of ministers to have ongoing discussions and constant feedback. I love hearing from people who are very much not like me but possess a similar Kingdom heart.
    • I’m always on the hunt for other “networks” and “groups” for me and my staff to help us learn as well as possibly use us to pour into someone else. We can’t just be consumers; we need to be contributors.
  3. Leverage social media.
    • My disclaimer: social media doesn’t equate to deep relationships. BUT it can be an avenue to develop relational connections.
    • I have used all facets of social media to follow churches and ministers to create connections. Peering into the world of other churches helps elevate my vision and gets me out of my little box that I have put ministry in.
  4. Look outside of your denomination. 
    • I love the Assemblies of God. But the Kingdom of God is bigger than our denomination…er…fellowship (#AGJokes). My move to a smaller town in mid-Michigan in the summer of 2002 really opened my eyes and my heart to embrace other ministers who were not A/G but were engaging the Jesus’ Kingdom. I love engaging with pastors in my Kalamazoo area. I love knowing their heart. I also love to be able to recommend other churches when someone comes to Kfirst and doesn’t feel a “fit” in our church community.  And that can’t happen if you (1) are insecure and (2) don’t know the pastors in your city.

I know there are probably other ways, but I wanted to challenge you and keep it simple. Craig Groeschel hit me hard and has made me sit back and reevaluate my connections and I think you should to.

Do you have “community”? Maybe a better question: Will you allow “community” to help you grow and, in turn, will help them grow?

Love you all. Praying for you as you step into connections and allow God to work through community.

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

BTW: If you’re looking for a marriage resource, check out my book by clicking on the image:

2 Minute Devo: Ecclesiastes Day 4

September is all about diving into the book of Ecclesiastes.  Watch the devo and read the scripture for today:

 

Ecclesiastes7:14

In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that man may not find out anything that will be after him.

2 Minute Devo: “Repentance is about relationship: Ps. 32

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October is our journey through the 2 minute series called “Resurrecting Repentance”.  It’s as simple as viewing the vlog and reading the passage for the day.  Today’s passage is Psalm 32:

Psalm 32

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,

    whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up[b] as by the heat of summer. Selah

5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

8 I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;
I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding,
which must be curbed with bit and bridle,
or it will not stay near you.

10 Many are the sorrows of the wicked,
but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.
11 Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous,
and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!