Keeping your eye in the right spot

I’m teaching my 11-year-old how to mow the grass. This was a significant marker in my life when my dad taught me, and I feel like in a way I’m passing the mantle to my son.

I’m convinced it’s good for him, even though he doesn’t yet think so.


It’s possible to cut your grass randomly and still get it all cut. But I love the way fresh cut striped grass looks. Maybe you’ve seen it at golf courses or baseball fields, with stripes stand out as if they’ve been freshly ironed. Naturally, I’m transferring this love to my son.


It’s not hard to stripe. Just keep the outside tire of your mower just outside the cut line, making sure the blades extend just to the edge of the previously cut line. Clip every blade. Keep your line straight.

#Goals


I’ve been giving my son more and more of a leash lately, so I let him cut the back yard “by himself” yesterday. And do you know what happened? There were little tiny strips of grass left uncut all over the yard. From one angle, the misses looked random. But as I walked up and down the rows, I realized they weren’t random at all. They were perfectly lined 1.5″ strips all up and down the yard. You know why?

Because he took his eye off the line. He would make the turn to go down the row, and his eyes would start looking at the amount of work still left to do. Our back yard is basically a square, so every turn you make, you can easily see how much is left to cut and how many more passes you’ve got to make. A minor 1.5″ off from each line doesn’t feel significant in the moment, and because he’s plowing ahead with each row, he doesn’t notice what he’s missing. All he noticed in the moment was how much work was still left to do. 


And it actually caused us to have to spend a lot more time, make a lot more passes after Rex thought he was finished. I brought him down each row, and said, “Look…here’s where you went off the path.”


Check this out, in Hebrews 12:2-3

[Look] to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted.


So the command here is to “look to Jesus.” You’ve probably heard that before. But did you catch what happens when you take your eyes off of him? You “grow weary or fainthearted.”

I’ve found myself growing weary and fainthearted recently. With piles of emails awaiting me, kids at home doing school, and ongoing commitments 3-4 nights/week, I’ve felt pretty scorched at the edges. The way I know I’m growing weary is not that I get physically tired…it’s that I get physically short on patience. Everything becomes an interruption, and people get in the way of what I’m trying to do. I’ve heard it said that one of the best ways to check your heart and test whether you’re growing in spiritual maturity or not is to look at your closest relationships and ask yourself, “Am I growing more patient and loving? Or less?”

Instead of looking at Jesus, my eyes drifted to the work that I still needed to do. The emails, meeting, and events. The homework, tests, and projects.

When I keep my eyes on Jesus, it gives me the freedom to be ruthlessly present with whoever and whatever is in front of me. Because as I keep my eyes on Jesus, it helps me to not grow weary or fainthearted, impatient and frustrated with those around me. I grow weary when I think things depend on me. Keeping my eyes on Jesus allows me to trust that the work will still be there when I return. That Jesus will build his church, and that he doesn’t “need” me (though he chooses to use each of us). This doesn’t exempt me from doing work. In fact, it empowers me, realizing that I’ve got the King of the universe working in and through me.

Peace only happens in my life when I surrender to the Prince of Peace.

The moment I put my eyes squarely on my work, the more weary and fainthearted I become. I have to trust Jesus is going to take care of that as long as I keep my eyes on him and keep moving forward.

I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. – Jesus, Matthew 16:18

 

Joy in repetition

I tossed my 2-year-old in the air, and he laughed. The kind of infectious laugh that compels you to laugh along. I love doing this with my kids. It’s a way to simulate danger, and help my kids face their tiny fears in a safe, controlled environment full of love and comfort and security (which, side note, should be a goal of all parenting. But that’s another post for another day.)

He goaded me to do it again. 

I obliged. 

He laughed again. 

Then goaded me again. 

I, this time, begrudgingly obliged. 

He laughed again, with as much gusto as if this was the first time he’d ever experienced this sensation of flying. 

Then goaded me again. 

By this time I was done. 

“Ok buddy, that’s enough. Go play.” 

I was feeling not just silly, but bored. Kinda over it. Ready to move to the next thing. 

Yet he reflected a nature of God that I don’t. A joy in repetition.  

Thus says the Lord, who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the stars for light by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar— the Lord of hosts is his name. – Jeremiah 31:35

We should be thankful for this attribute of God. It’s an attribute marked by consistency and reliability. Think about how many crucial parts of our lives depend on this: the sun rising and setting, the earth spinning on its axis. The tides rising and falling, the waves crashing on the shore. The rain falling, the trees growing, the air moving about the surface of the earth. Mundane, everyday occurrences that you aren’t conscious of until you focus on them. But mundane, everyday occurrences that were they to cease, it’s all you’d focus on.

“If this fixed order departs from before me, declares the Lord, then shall the offspring of Israel cease from being a nation before me forever.” – Jeremiah 31:36

We value creativity: ideas and processes and buildings and ministries and relationships that are new. We scoff at “more of the same.” When something has remained the same for an extended period of time, we roll our eyes because it’s grown stagnant.

Yet if it weren’t for this attribute of God, we would be doomed. The sun would stop. Earth would stop circling the sun. It would stop raining. And, according to Jeremiah 31:36, we would stop being God’s children. There’s something hauntingly beautiful about repetition. Something we should lean in to, and embrace for its ability to hold life itself together.


So next time your kid asks you to toss them in the air for the hundredth time in a row, be reminded of the nature of God. And find space to be thankful. 

 

The 3-fold cord

One of my favorite history authors is David McCullough. He wrote a book The Great Bridge, which chronicles the construction of the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a fascinating read on the political and logistical and engineering feat that brought this bridge to life. This was, and still remains, an incredible architectural marvel.

Designed by John Roebling and finished by his son Washington, the bridge is over a mile long, stretching from Brooklyn to Manhattan, built to greatly decrease travel time between the two cities. Brooklyn was a small town, and this bridge greatly changed its landscape. According to stats from the NYC Department of Transportation, every day more than 120,000 vehicles, 4000 pedestrians, and 2600 bicyclists cross. That’s a lot of traffic. And a lot of weight.

The Brooklyn Bridge is a cable suspension bridge, meaning the entire weight of the bridge, and pedestrians like my son and I walking across, is held aloft hundreds of feet above the water by these cables.


Workers would splice wires together then tie them to make long strands. Then they’d attach them to a boat, which would take them from Brooklyn over to Manhattan. There are over 14,000 miles of wire in the bridge. Each cable has 19 separate strands, which each has 278 separate wires. McCullough says this of the wires themselves:

All cables rightly pull their load.

This was a passing comment, but it stuck out to me. There’s nothing passive about these wires. Each individual cable has a role they play, an activate participant in sustaining this massive structure that’s longer, heavier, and more substantial than any single wire on its own. Each pulls their “load.” No more, and no less. And without each pulling their amount, the entire structure is in jeopardy.

I’ve heard this passage from Scripture thousands of times:

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. – Ecclesiastes 4:12

Typically I’ve heard it in the context of a marriage sermon: it’s you, your spouse, and God. And the idea is simple: just hang on to each other (your spouse and God) and you won’t be quickly broken. Almost as if the goal is just survival.

But what if this concept that Solomon laid out isn’t really just about surviving marriage? What if it’s bigger than that?

In hermeneutics class, we were taught to not take a verse out of its context. So go check the context out HERE.

This is the point in Ecclesiastes where Solomon is visually seeing lots of oppression. Which, last time I checked, you and I area surrounded by. Day in and day out. Whether it’s in your own city or you’re watching from afar, we see oppression. And in this time of oppression, what’s the rally cry?

Unite!

Because in times of oppression, we practically realize that we can’t do this on our own.  When the seas are calm, we’re lulled in to thinking we can survive on our own. Yet rough waters give way to locked arms.

Solomon’s wisdom here, in the face of oppression, feels much more active. Instead of nice, shiny, fancy, loosely tied rope at a wedding ceremony, I wonder if the Brooklyn Bridge isn’t a stronger application. When each of us, with our inherent brokenness, our past failures, current strengths and giftings, resources and ideas, choose to link arms together we become a bridge that can weather storms. That can stand the test of time. That can endure being trampled. Hundreds of thousands of times every day. When every cable rightly pulls their load, we all become stronger.

But when a few cables think they can just go at it alone, we all grow weaker.

It’s true that this season has caused us to explore uncertainty in new ways, but it’s also true that “a cord of three strands is not easily broken.” Now is not the time to navigate on your own. Now is the time to grow stronger together. To become the Church that Jesus instituted.

And on the other side of this crazy year, the Church will be stronger than ever. Looking more like Jesus than ever. And beaming our light of hope from the shore.

 

3 truths to learning contentment

It’s difficult to thrive in a season we’re currently in, faced with a global pandemic that doesn’t seem to show signs of slowing. Besides the fact that the virus exists, the measure our society has taken to curtail its spread has upended most of our lives. Especially our rhythms.

Rhythms are so important in life. With the right rhythm, movement becomes beautiful, artistic dance. Something worth marveling at and replicating. With the wrong rhythm, movement becomes awkward, stilted, and, painful to watch.

In a season like we’re all in, it’s tough to find your footing. And we can easily find ourselves turning to lots of different things to satisfy us. From our vice of choice to our jobs, from binging the latest on TV to obsessing over our outdated kitchens that we’re forced to stare at all day every day, discontentment hangs on to our shoulders like a wet blanket. It drips water on everything we touch. It jades our responses, emotions, and resolve. And it’s like trying to quench our thirst by drinking sand. The more you drink, the thirstier you get.

This feels like the kind of season that the Apostle Paul would lean in and give us encouragement during. Because it’s encouragement, hope, and perseverance we need right now. In Philippians 4, Paul says this:

I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

You’ve heard that last sentence above, likely quoted on a motivational poster of a marathon runner telling you that you can sprint a marathon. Out of context, that interpretation seems valid. Within context, though, it takes on a much deeper meaning. Paul can “do all things” because he has learned contentment. Meaning he’s walked through different seasons of life, and God’s driven him to a deep, abiding satisfaction despite his circumstances.

I bet Paul, if he were writing today, would say something like: “I have learned to be content…while being quarantined, while not knowing the future of our culture, while not being able to go to gyms or restaurants…”

A global pandemic makes it hard to find contentment. But it’s the perfect soil for exploring. My grandpa has a farm with a creek bed that’s perfect for exploring. In it you’ll find rocks, bugs, shells, crawdaddys, and Native American money. I was able to show our kids the wonders and joys of it while we were there this summer. The more you stare at the creek bed, the more you see. At first glance, you just see a bunch of random rocks. But as your eyes adjust, you see layers and layers of treasure.

So what does it mean to learn contentment like Paul mentions? How do we explore it in this season?

3 truths to learning contentment

1. It’s a process.

This process oftentimes involves pain before it produces fruit. Look at Paul’s life: he learned contentment through some pretty painful experiences. And contrast that with Jesus’ words that it’s easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of Heaven and you’ve got the extremes covered. The process involves you walking through these only to realize that you’re not in control. And that circumstances don’t determine contentedness.

2. It takes time.

Every time you walk through a new, previously unknown season, you’ve got the chance to walk through becoming more content in who God has created you to be and what He’s created you to do. When my wife and I went through premarital counseling, our pastor said something that has stuck with me: don’t get married to someone you haven’t experienced all 4 seasons with. The principle was this: you can’t know you love someone until you see them in multiple scenarios. The same is true with contendedness: you can’t know if you’re content until you’ve experienced life.

3. It takes trust.

Ultimately, contendness involves you trusting. Trusting that He will make your paths straight, that His plan is better than yours, and taking a risk on His ways.

Delight yourself in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart. – Psalm 37:4

You can’t delight in someone you do not trust. And as you delight, your desires change. And as your desires change, you become more content.

Trust in God –> delight in God –> contentment in all things

Keep your eyes on Jesus. He’s the author and the perfecter of our faith. (Hebrews 12:2) And the one that offers true contentment.

 

Carpe Opportunity: Stepping toward our fears

If you’re a leader, you no doubt have built it as a habit to recruit other leaders around you. 

In the business world, that’s called talent acquisition. In the church world, it’s called volunteer recruitment. In sports, it’s called tryouts. In parenting, it’s called, “Help!

In my role as a pastor, I’m constantly looking for others I can bring on to my team. Some times, I have a role I’m trying to fill. Other times, I’m trying to find a role for a rockstar with amazing potential. 

This time for me, the couple I was talking to fit both bills. I was calling them to join our team or writers that creates our weekly sermon discussion guides. Every week we build a discussion experience for individuals and groups to access, to help take the sermon further than Sunday mornings. This couple and I had a great discussion. I vacillated between vision-casting, logistics, sharing my heart for theology and life change, and “next steps” for the future of where this is going.

And I realized that this is an opportunity that is a no-brainer for them. It’s something they have both had extensive training for, both professional and practical. They can step in to this role and do it in their sleep. What will take them 2-3 hours to complete at an A+ level would take others 10-15 hours. To get a C+. They’re going to step on to this team and make a big impact.
As our conversation wrapped up, I off-handedly mentioned the two of them potentially stepping in to lead a small group in the future.

They froze.

I thought it was just our internet connection.

This opportunity wasn’t on their radar, nor was it in their comfort zone. They instantly began thinking through the barriers and resistors to this opportunity, and the reasons why now isn’t the right time and why they’re not the right people. You’ve done the same thing.

Jesus came to “comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” – Finley Peter Dunne

When it comes to opportunities God has put in front of you, don’t just pursue the ones you can do in your sleep. Pursue the ones that cause you to lose sleep. [TWEET THAT]

Those are the ones that are outside of your comfort zones, and the ones you have to depend on God and others more than ever. If you, in your own strength, wisdom, experience, and power can do the work in front of you, it takes no faith. And with no faith, there is no growth.

If God called His own Son to remain with something that was uncomfortable (Mark 14:35-36), because He had a greater redemptive plan, shouldn’t we expect that same?

So step out towards that thing that makes you afraid. That causes you to lose sleep. Seize the opportunity that’s in front of you, not so you can tout your accomplishment. Seize it BECAUSE it makes you fearful, BECAUSE you have to trust God anew, and so that you can brag on the God who redeems all things.

 

Exploring uncertainty

We are in unprecedented times. In the midst of a global pandemic, Church hasn’t changed, but the way we do it has.

Recently, I’ve been asked what our plans for the upcoming season look like. Will we launch new groups in the same way we have before? Will we offer connection events? Will people want to enter a group leader’s home (that they don’t know) to interact with relative strangers?

Will chips and salsa ever make their return to small group life?

In times past, I have trained leaders to not stress over a perfectly clean house. Instead, I’ve encouraged them to invite people in to their lives, piles of old mail and all. This was a push for authenticity and vulnerability: don’t stuff the piles of mail or your struggles under the bed.

But now, where masks are becoming the norm, hand sanitizers expected, and cleanliness not just a value for some but a necessity for most, we find ourselves as groups pastors in unprecedented times.

So what do we do?

I’d love to give you the neat and easy steps to ensuring a group’s success, or the hard-and-fast “you must do this to launch new groups in your context” kind of post. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury. And whether you’re a small business owner, a public school teacher, a nurse, a stay-at-home-dad, or a pastor, you know this to be true. And anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying to you or trying to sell you something.

As always, I’ve found the Scriptures to be an amazing guide. They don’t always tell us every single step to take. But they show us the path, and teach us how to walk on it. Check this out:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
   and he will make your paths straight. – Proverbs 3:5-6

I’ve read this thousands of times. But in light of our current season, I find a renewed hope here. What’s the best next step for you to take?

Trust in the Lord. With all of your heart. We’re prone to leaning on our own understanding, which is oftentimes gained from years of experience. And when we do that, sometimes we “win” and sometimes we “lose.” But what happens when we “trust in the Lord”?

Sometimes we “win” and sometimes we “lose.”

But there’s a much different outcome when we trust in the Lord. Even when we “lose,” our paths are made straight.

My kids love to ride their bikes in our neighborhood, and at the end of our road there’s a gravel drainage area. It’s basically a basin, with a downward-sloping hill on all 4 sides: the perfect place to ride a bike. But riding across crushed granite doesn’t net you the kind of speed you want as an 11-year-old boy. So my kids got to work, moving rocks and dirt to the side in order to make a path. It was hard work. And it took them a long time. But the result was something they were really proud of. “Dad,” my son said with a puffed out chest. “Come check out what we’ve done.”

The Hebrew word for “straight” in this passage denotes the clearing of a road, to make it safe. Everybody loves a straight path, but not everyone wants to go through the painstaking process it takes for that path to be made straight.

The painstaking process begins with trust. Not a blind trust that runs head-first off a cliff. But a trust that takes one step at a time down a path that’s being made straight. The path that proves the One that’s carving it out is worth being trusted.

So what should you do as a business owner this next season? Trust in God. Then take a step.

What should you do as a pastor? Trust in God. Then take a step.

As a single person? Trust in God. Then take a step.

As a small groups pastor that is uncertain what the future of groups will look like? Trust. In. God. Then take a step.

As we’re all in a season of exploring uncertainty together, may our first step not be giving glib “do this” answers. But may we, despite our callings, start with trust.

 

The 5 Cs of a Catalytic Leadership Meeting

Meetings are a part of our lives. They’re inevitable. If you work, volunteer, or just live life, you’re going to be meeting with people.

I serve as a pastor, which might make you think I work one day/week. And if that’s what you think…you’d be wrong. I lead meetings with the team I serve, and with the volunteer team that I build in to. I’m a part of meetings every single day. And if you’re a leader, you’re often organizing, planning, inviting, and facilitating meetings, too. Multiple ones every week. Sometimes, multiple ones each day.

I don’t have time for meaningless meetings. Neither do you. I don’t want more meetings for the sake of meetings. I want meetings to be purposeful, and take us somewhere. I want action items. I want vision. I want inspiration. I want connection.

Here are a few vitals you need to keep in mind if you lead leaders. If you lead followers, maybe there are some principles in here you can skip. But if you want to lead leaders well, you’ve got to keep these things in mind.

The 5 Cs of Leadership Meetings

Calibrate

Always have an agenda. Know what you need to report out on since the last meeting, or since the last project began/completed. Make sure everyone is clear on where you’re at, and where the meeting is headed. This is also the chance to honor the work you put in to the last meeting, and not overlook celebrating what was done, and filling in the holes of what still needs to be finished. Meetings aren’t just about the new and shiny objects you’ve got in front of you. They’re about making sure you did what you said you’d do last time.

If you skip this step, the meeting will feel scattered.

Cast vision

Why are you having this meeting? Where is your team headed? What’s coming up? What goals are you driving towards? Make sure you paint a big picture, and not just jump to the tactical, logistical side of leadership. If you overlook this step, you’ll create a bunch of worker bees that burn out.

If you skip this step, leaders will dry up. 

Create action steps

This is the part where assignments are made, and the vision begins to take shape. Give deadlines, specific roles, and accountability. People should always leave a meeting knowing what the expectations are. I’m also of the opinion that everyone should leave with “homework,” objectives to complete before the next time you meet. This helps keep meetings from becoming a “we’re just meeting because we’ve always met,” focusing them around the idea that there’s work to get done, and we each have a hand in accomplishing our vision.

If you skip this step, your team will never feel like they’re going anywhere.

Care

It’s easy for the above to feel tactical. Make sure you give space for leaders to share a bit of what’s going on in their lives. You know what I know about leaders? They lead everywhere they go. Oftentimes, they “don’t have time” to care for their soul, and those they lead sure don’t pick up that banner. If leadership is about serving others, this is vital to a thriving team.

If you skip this step, your team will feel like you’re only for their productivity, and not for them as a person.

Coffee

I mean, come on. You can’t have a meeting without coffee. The principle is this: serve them something. Provide a snack. Water. Coffee. Tea. This helps people feel engaged, loved, served, and cared for.  And it gives them something to do in those awkward pre-meeting-what-do-I-talk-about-I-don’t-know-so-I’ll-just-drink-this-coffee moments.

If you skip this step, people will fall asleep.
Any meetings vitals you’d add?

 

Powerful words leaders say

You’ve probably worked for some great leaders. Ones that empowered and encouraged you. Ones that helped you accomplish more, and be a better leader yourself. They made you feel like your team could tackle anything. And it’s often been from words they spoke to you or about you.

And you’ve worked for some terrible ones. Leaders that made life more difficult. That made you question everything about yourself, and the project you’re working on. That made you afraid every time you opened your email, stepped in to a meeting, or answered your phone.

A leader has tremendous power with their words. Power to build up or tear down. Power to move others to action. Power to paralyze.

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. – James 3:3-5

Here are words I’ve been personally told, or have heard said to others. I cringed. Maybe these are words you’ve heard…or said.

Damaging words

You’re worthless.
What were you thinking?
This is typical.
I’m the boss.
If you fail, it’s on you.
I’ve got to tear you down so I can build you up.
One more little mistake and I don’t know what we can do with you.
Failure isn’t an option.
There’s no recovering from this.
You don’t know what you’re doing.
We need results, not relationships.
You ought to feel lucky just to have a job here.
You’re too young to know…
You’re too old to know…

On the flip side, words bring life. I’ve literally felt weight come off of my shoulders as I’ve heard some of these. I’ve walked into a meeting feeling burdened…and stepped out feeling like I can take on the world. Others won’t always remember what you said, but they’ll always remember how you made them feel.

Life Giving Words

I’ll go first.
Let’s go together.
If you lose, we lose.
I’ve got your back.
I believe in you.
You be you.
How can I help?
You are so valuable here.
Thank you.
You’re incredible with ____ (be specific).
What do you need from me?
If this doesn’t work, we’ll try something else.
What barriers are you facing that I can tackle for you?
What do you need to know to do your job better?

I recognize, though, that there are times when a change needs to happen. I just *naively* believe that it can be done in such a way to honor a person, and help them grow without damaging their identity and causing them to run from the faith and from your organization. Basically, the goal here is to listen and learn before you speak.

Listen before you answer. If you don’t, you are being stupid and insulting. The first person to speak in court always seems right until his opponent begins to question him.  – Proverbs 18:13, 17

Words to help steer the ship without sinking it

Help me understand…
What do you see as the crux of the issue?
Help me see the fuller picture
What piece of this am I missing?
What resources do you need to win?
Is there a different seat on this bus that you’d thrive in?
What are the things you LOVE to do?
Who can we surround you with that can help you succeed?

Leaders exist to serve others. Your words carry immense weight. Weight that can put wind in sails, steer a ship, or sink it.

For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. – Paul, Galatians 5:13

Use your words wisely, and build your organization well by serving others well.


 

A Gospel built on good manners

My wife and I prize good manners. We’re from the South, so Southern hospitality flows through our veins. Even if we don’t like you, you’ll think we do.  😊

So we teach our kids to have good, respectful manners as well. Here’s how a typical conversation goes at our house:

Me: Hey Rex!
Rex: What?
Me: Rex, do you want to try to say that differently?
Rex: Oh yeah, “Yes sir?”

It’s not that I want to try to keep him in a subservient role by calling me “sir.” I don’t want to remind him every day of his “place.” I also am not on a power trip where I feel like I “deserve” to be called “sir” because of my position or how hard I work. It has nothing to do with personhood.

Yet it has everything to do with personhood.

I remember in seminary being warned not to confuse behavior modification with Gospel transformation. That to boil transformation down to altering some behaviors is to rip the power out of the cross. The point of Jesus’ death wasn’t to make us “good” people…the point was to reconcile two polar opposites: God and sin.

Did Jesus die to make us morally good people?

No sir. He didn’t.

But one of the rules my wife and I have as parents is that when our kids address us, and all adults for that matter, they speak with respect. That means a few things.

  • Saying, “Yes sir/ma’am” and “No sir/ma’am.”
  • Looking people in the eye.
  • Listening when others are speaking.
  • Learning people’s names.
  • Responding when spoken to.
  • Speaking up when you want/need something. (and not just expecting people know what you want)

I’m sure that my seminary friends will differ from me. In fact, I would probably have disagreed with me while I was in seminary. But now as a parent, I’m thinking otherwise. I don’t just see “good manners” as a parenting tactic to keep Southern charm alive and well. I also don’t see it as a way to keep my thumb on my kids and their behavior. I don’t equate it with the sum total of their spiritual lives, yet it’s a fruit of their heart.

“Good manners” are a theological stance. I see 4 main reasons why having good manners is a reflection of a heart that first and foremost loves God. (yes, you can have good manners for a variety of other reasons. Just like you can choose to do all kinds of good things for a variety of other reasons. You don’t have to love Jesus to choose not to murder people, do you?)

4 reasons why good manners are theological

1. As image bearers of God, everyone deserves respect.

We have been created in the image of God. Every one of us. As such, every person deserves a level of respect. Have they lived worthy of that? Probably not. But that doesn’t negate the image of God in them.

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them. – Genesis 1:27

When we treat others with kindness, we respect the image of God in them.

2. Good manners show we believe God is loving, patient, and kind.

When we are loving, patient, and kind towards others, we reflect our deeply held belief that God is that same way. When we are loving, patient, and kind towards others even when they don’t deserve it, we reflect a God who operates the same way.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud  or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. – Paul, 1 Corinthians 13:4-5

When we treat others with kindness, we reflect a God who does the same.

3. Good manners show how pleasant life can be.

Wouldn’t you much prefer to be treated with respect than without it? Isn’t life much more pleasant when, even if/when we disagree, we can do so civilly? I’m not suggesting we need to agree with everyone, and affirm their every thought and action. Love chooses a different way, even in moments of disagreement. Love chooses kindness not at the expense of truth, but alongside it.

But I tell you, love your enemies… – Jesus, Matthew 5:44

4. Kindness leads to repentance. Not harshness.

Check this out: “Don’t you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can’t you see that his kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?” – Paul, Romans 2:4

Harshness, biting words, and condemnation didn’t lead you to repentance. Kindness does. If you want to be an agent of reconciliation, don’t be a jerk.

For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. – Jesus, Luke 6:45

It’s God’s kindness that leads us to repentance, not His wrath. Kindness doesn’t nullify or weaken truth, and the power of our sin. If I’m kind and respectful towards you, that doesn’t mean I condone everything you do. It means I recognize the way God operates with me, and how I’ve been led to repentance. And it means I’ve got the same hope for everyone.

When we use good manners, we treat others with kindness. Because we have eternity in mind.

So I’ve got more in mind when I correct my children on their “sirs” and “ma’ams.” And there are plenty of other ways to teach our children to respect and treat others with kindness. But I’ve got a Gospel focus in my parenting. I’ve got an others-focus that I want them to grow in.

But maybe I’m just being old-fashioned?


 

To be an effective leader, stop wasting your time

This is a flea market. Notice all of the junk. Randomly priced, randomly placed, randomly assorted junk. The highest priced item here: $7.50. (It’s also a picture of my son’t handiwork. “Hey dad…*snicker*…see what I did to that little wooden…*snicker*…mannequin…*snicker*?”)

Below is a picture from the next table over. Seriously, within just a few feet I saw a “Royal Albert China Dinner and Tea Set” for $850. I’m not saying it’s not worth that price tag…I honestly have no idea what, if anything, it’s worth.

 

Someone kept these for a long time. They spent a lot of money on them. Probably moved with them a time or two. Took extra time and care to store them. And probably rarely (if ever) used them. Now they’re sitting at a flea market, not selling. Because you can’t sell $850 dishes beside a $.28 button.

It’s sad, really. I feel bad for the person that bought them, the one that stored them, the one that didn’t use them, the one that transported them across town to the flea market, and the one that’s (not) selling them now.

Individual leadership

I bet there’s something you’re doing right now that, when you look back on your life in 20 years, is really a waste of time. You’re moving boxes of expensive dishes (your most valuable resource is your time) that you’re going to try to sell later, that nobody wants to buy.

  • There’s a book you’re reading that isn’t helping you. Put it down.
  • There’s a habit you’ve got that leaves you more irritable and less patient with people. Stop it.
  • There’s a relationship you have that is moving you further from who God made you to be. Change it.
  • There’s a side hustle you’re juggling that sucks the life out of you. Time to cut the cord.
  • Your “relaxing” time doesn’t leave you recharged. You can do better.

Life’s too short to protect expensive dishes you don’t want.

Organizational leadership

Church leaders, make sure the “programs” and initiatives you’re starting don’t just appease people’s itching ears, but actually lead them somewhere. Just because people ask for it doesn’t mean you have to do it. And on the flip side, be careful putting your time and energy towards what you think is nice without seeing if people want it.

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions. – Paul, 2 Timothy 4:3

Know where you’re taking people, understand WHO you’re trying to produce, and relentlessly pursue that. Stop having people do things that simply keep them, and you, busy with activity but don’t actually help them become the Jesus follower you’re trying to lead them to become.

Good pastors don’t just exegete the Scriptures, they exegete their people. In other words, good pastors don’t just spend time trying to know, understand, love, and unpack the truths found in the Bible. They work equally hard to know, understand, love, and unpack the people God’s called them to lead, and the unique vision God’s called their local congregation to. One without the other short-changes both. To love the Scriptures but not people makes you into a Bible-thumper. It also means you’ve not obeyed the most important command in Scripture: love others as yourself.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” – Jesus, Mark 12:30-31

It’s hard to know when you’re doing this, though, and whether the programs and processes you have in place are working. Maybe try asking a couple of questions of those you’re leading:

  • Because of ____ (program, event, etc.), are you closer to Jesus?
  • Are you growing more patient or more irritable with people, as a result of ___?
  • Are you finding yourself more or less courageous with your faith?
  • Do you find yourself more available emotionally, spiritually, and physically for your family, and those closest to you, because of ___?

People will be honest, especially when it comes to how they spend their time and resources. It may just be that that recreation ministry makes you happy, but isn’t helping your church become more faithful followers of Jesus.

Can we all agree to not become, or continue practices that produce, expensive dishes that nobody wants to buy?

 


 
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