Communication is a Wonderful Thing

A few weeks ago, I acted like a typical high “I” and made an on-the-spot invitation for friends to visit us during a time that MK and I had set apart for only the two of us to be alone and recover. I realized that I had acted impulsively and hoped no one would notice.  However, MK brought it up later when we were alone. It hurt her.  She told me that it bothered her, and then she was quiet for the remainder of the ride home. I noticed it and should have addressed it then. Instead, I let us ride home in silence. I apologized, but it wasn’t really heard. We talked it through the next day, and I apologized again. I think she finally heard it.

As I said, communication is a wonderful and very complex process.  It is much more than one person saying something and the other person hearing it.  Seldom is what we share exactly what we are feeling or thinking.  That is, the words that we say are rarely the same words going on in our heads.  This is because:

  1. We say what we think the other person wants to hear.
  2. We say what we feel is appropriate for the moment. 
  3. We say 90% of what we want to say and never share the whole truth. 
  4. We are concerned for the other person, so we couch our words in phrases the other can receive. 
  5. Maybe our emotions are high, and therefore, we intentionally don’t respond out of these emotions.
  6. We are insecure and struggle to admit it in the conversation.

In fact, if a person didn’t do some of these things, they would be perceived as a-social. We would see them as unable to communicate effectively.

I do this all the time. I simply don’t say what I am feeling/thinking without running it through my EQ grid. This is healthy. Just because I feel or think something doesn’t mean it is right or even that it should be shared in the moment. I think through the context and then share what I think/feel is most appropriate. But this isn’t usually verbatim with what is going on inside my head. 

The same is true for the hearer. Seldom do they hear what the speaker intends because of what is going on inside their own head.  This is because:

  1. They already think/feel one way, which influences what or how they hear the words.
  2. They are insecure, and what is shared is felt as a threat.
  3. They are not listening because they are mentally engaged elsewhere.
  4. They are thinking of what to say in response before hearing the whole message.
  5. Their prior history with this person skews what they hear from them.

Obviously, the list from both the speaker/hearer could go on much further.  It becomes apparent why communication is complex.  It isn’t a surprise that we often don’t hear what is intended.  It is a miracle that healthy communication takes place at all! 

Mark 10.35-40 tells us:

35Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to him. “Teacher,” they said, “we want you to do for us whatever we ask.” 36“What do you want me to do for you?” he asked. 37They replied, “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory.” 38“You don’t know what you are asking,” Jesus said. “Can you drink the cup I drink or be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with?” 39“We can,” they answered. Jesus said to them, “You will drink the cup I drink and be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with, 40but to sit at my right or left is not for me to grant. These places belong to those for whom they have been prepared.”

Mark 10.35-40

James and John had no clue of the implications of their request. Jesus tells them such. Jesus withholds some information because he knows they couldn’t bear it at this point.  He also knows in time, they will understand and fully grasp what they ask. Their lives were given in service to their master, and they both died suffering for their Savior. 

We all withhold some things, but unlike Jesus, it is usually because we are afraid of how the person may react or how it may impact us. We are told in Ephesians to speak the truth in love. I learned to speak the truth long before I learned to speak it with love. I am still learning to hear the truth with love.

Healthy communication requires both the truth and love on both the speaker and the hearer’s part.

Anxiety in an Anxious Age

I enjoy traveling, which I frequently do. One of the things I enjoy about it is the many new people and different places to explore.  I never tire of studying people and attempting to understand the culture or environment that causes them to think or act as they do.

However, one of the downsides to traveling is that I find it easy to get out of my routines.  As I have written elsewhere, I am not a disciplined person, but I do maintain healthy habits that keep my life growing consistently.  These habits include a morning routine that starts with Mary Kay and me reading and reflecting on our lives and the day ahead.  I have a routine of exercise that keeps me in shape physically.  These routines or habits govern my life and center me in Christ. 

In traveling and serving others, I find my schedule is not always what I desire; time zones, meetings, hotels, and coffee shops don’t always allow me to keep a consistent routine.  As I have aged, I have worked harder and done better, but it is still a challenge.  When I return home, I immediately reestablish my sense of routine or healthy habits. 

As I reflect on my habits, I have come to see that they keep me well.  They are Christ-centered and therefore feed my heart, body, mind, and soul.  They are holistic and not compulsive.  They provide freedom, security, and peace. 

Yet, I find it intriguing that there is so much anxiety all around me today. I don’t think it is just a result of Covid, for it has been increasing for the last 100 years.  I also find it intriguing that it is as prevalent among followers of Christ as it is in those far from faith in Christ. I think deeply about this.

There is something in this observation that lets me know that it is not right belief that eliminates anxiety. One could argue that it is related to rightly held beliefs. As if the followers of Christ who are experiencing anxiety are simply not “really” believing. But I don’t think so; as I look at followers of Christ, I know. It seems that it is impacted by faith for sure, but it is also impacted by their emotional state.  This can be circular, meaning that each of these can impact the other. 

It seems to me that one’s emotional state is informed by their faith, but not necessarily determined by it. I have never been one to worry, before Christ or since. So to say my faith has kept me from worrying is a bit naive. Surely as I have aged and matured in my faith in God’s providence has solidified into a belief structure that continues to keep me free from anxiety. But not being prone to worry prior to faith in Christ seems to be a better predictor of one’s anxiety than simply faith in Christ.

So what is the origin of anxiety? It seems to me that most who struggle with anxiety lack a solid nurturing, emotionally connected, and life-giving relationship with one or both parents. It seems that anxiety isn’t always a natural consequence of this, but the lack of this early emotionally connecting environment provides a clear breeding ground from which anxiety can develop in childhood and beyond.

As I have watched people over a lifetime, I find it interesting that the anxiety often didn’t surface as children but did later in life.  I think this has to do with kids’ emotional energy, which can mask anxiety well into their late twenties.  It is only then their emotional energy seems to dissipate, and anxiety surface. 

Indeed there are many other factors that can increase anxiety, such as PTSD, trauma, and chronic stress.  However, these factors often find root in the fertile soil of a lack of emotional nurturing, a sense of abandonment, and a lack of attunement as a young developing child. 

I know I have only touched the surface of this subject and have much more and deeper things to process.  But I am reminded that Paul tells the Philippians in the letter he wrote to them (4.4-9):

4Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 8Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Philippians 4:4-9

Paul is telling them and us to keep our hearts, minds, memories, and souls focused on the one with eternity in his hands.  I don’t see him condemning anxiety here, simply stating that it has trouble growing in soil that is continually being renewed by what is noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy.  It isn’t just a head exercise but rather is a relational one.  Notice Paul says that these are the things they saw in their relationship with him…there was and continued to be a relationship with Paul in this context. 

We live in an anxious society, culture, and pace which is fueled by poor emotional foundations and unhealthy relationships.  Let’s keep processing how healthy Christ-centered habits and solid emotional foundations can allow us to experience the peace deep in our souls that only God can produce.

Living in Light of Eternity

I have had several accidents which easily could have killed me. When I was ten years old, I was hit by a car that the driver admitted was going 60 mph. I ran right out in front of him; he didn’t have a chance to avoid me on that gravel road. Yes, I was severely injured and lost some teeth (my head hit the hood of the car), but I survived. Then, when I was 41, I was run over by a car that I tried to jump into while it was in motion.  Either of these events could have easily killed me; both were entirely my fault and my stupidity. 

I felt immortal when young. But the second time, while in shock riding to the hospital in the ambulance, the truth slowly seeped into my deep senses… ”I could have died.”  It was then, for the first time, that I realized I was mortal. My mother died shortly after that following a battle with cancer, and this truth was affirmed in my soul…”I am mortal. I, too, will die.”

I think it was then I began to prepare for my own death. I accepted the fact that life would go on without me. Although my family would miss me like I still miss my mother, everyone would go on with their lives. I began to ask myself what I wanted to accomplish with my life before I died and began to pursue these goals. I continue to soberly ask this of myself.

As a follower of Christ, if there is one thing I know, it is that we are all going to die.  But to die physically means to live ultimately. It is what Paul writes to some friends in Philippi,

“For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

Philippians 1.21-24

Then he writes to the church in Rome,

“If we live, we live to the Lord; and if we die, we die to the Lord. So, whether we live or die, we belong to the Lord.”

Romans 14.8

If anyone lived their life in light of eternity, certainly Paul did.

Atul Gawande is a surgeon who struggles with mortality, like most doctors and patients. His excellent book, Being Mortal, describes doctors’ struggles in helping their patients embrace their mortality. We are all going to die. As followers of Christ, we surely know this. And we have the confidence that this is not the end, so we can, as Paul, “face it with a grin.”

Why do so many people take such extreme measures to extend life when as Christians we are going to a better place? Gawande does an excellent job of helping individuals prepare for their own or another’s death. Gawande is not a Christian, but he highlights why doctors refuse to talk about a patient’s impending death and why patients don’t want their doctors to do so. It is like some unspoken covenant between the doctor and the patient.

He eventually became a proponent of palliative care which allows for quality and quantity of life, according to research from several studies. And it does so with a much more informed, intentional, and inexpensive approach to our mortality.

Gawande identifies four crucial questions to ask yourself and others close to you in life and as you face life-altering circumstances, like aging, an accident, or a life-threatening disease:

  • What is your understanding of the situation and its potential outcomes?
  • What are your fears and what are your hopes?
  • What tradeoffs are you willing to make or not willing to make?
  • What is the course of action that best serves this understanding?

My father is almost 94 and my mother died at 68. I will be 68 this month. I may die soon or live another 30 years; this is in God’s hands. I will serve His desires daily regardless of how long I have to live. These questions have enlightened how I want to interact with those closest to me while yet on this earth.

Wisdom and the Fray

As often the case, today’s Thursday Thoughts come out of my journaling.

Aging and growing in my faith have caused me to see wisdom much differently. I have learned that wisdom is most often shown by not entering a fray early. That is unless I feel there is something I can offer that no one else can offer at the outset. But this is very rare! Most of the time, I sense the Lord saying, “wait, let others express themselves and watch what happens. See what I can do without you!”

Earlier in my life, I felt it was my responsibility to straighten out every faulty point or thinking. This is the tendency Dave Bangle pointed out after our first board meeting at Pawnee; he called me a bulldog who shakes the air out of every toy. Now I know that a great deal of a person’s sense of contribution hinges on sharing their perspective and having it heard.  

For most people, everyone doesn’t have to agree with it. However, leaders sense the need to contribute, so they feel the need to talk. When they do, it is like they have exhaled a deep breath; there is a great sense of relief. Just as exhaling breath allows us to take in a fresh breath of air, once people have shared something and feel like it has been heard, they are more open to hearing what others have to say. Or, as my metaphor allows, for them to take in a fresh breath of air.

So now, I allow the discussion to go much longer without me. I eventually do enter in and express my perspective, but not necessarily addressing point by point made by others with which I may agree or disagree. Surely, I am not afraid to address a point made by another if asked. But most of the time, people really don’t care what I think about specific points in their argument if they feel heard.

I think my wisdom is much more respected today than it was thirty years ago. Yes, this is partially because of my age, experience, reading, and knowledge gained through these. However, some of it is surely my hesitation to enter the fray early and let others feel free to express their own perspectives and be heard before I engage from my own perspective.

Processing Emotions

Obviously, in my blogs about Open the Window, I wrote a lot about the importance of processing emotions when events that initiate them occur. I talked of the importance of agency and recovery in allowing our emotions to be dealt with in a way that diffuses them from taking our thinking brain hostage later in life. It is often the difference between agency and recovery that keeps events from becoming trauma in one’s life.  

But what if you were not allowed or didn’t understand how to process emotions in their family of origin? In this case, you find emotions often haunt you years or decades after the precipitating event. In fact, that is one of the measures of a traumatic memory; it continues to surface with the exact impact and force as it did in the original moment. These memory capsules don’t fade with time and continue taking our thinking brain hostage when resurfacing.  

A friend recently asked me what the difference was between feeling an emotion and processing an emotion. In other words, how do you know that you are really processing an emotion rather than just feeling it as you did in the original moment? 

Let me suggest how I have come to understand this these past four decades. It began with the book, Healing for Damaged Emotions by David Seamands. Almost forty-two years ago, David, a pastor with great insight into the human mind, wrote of the need for believers to relive painful memories in a way that Christ could be present and bring healing to these memories. From research on how the mind works, we now understand much more clearly what is happening in his method. 

Let me suggest the beginning point of processing one’s emotions is with feeling that emotion and being aware of its presence in one’s life. It clearly doesn’t stop there, but it does begin there. Often people get trapped in a vicious cycle of feeling/experiencing emotions and live in them while thinking this is effectively processing the emotions…this is not so.  

The key to not allowing this vicious cycle to take control of the thinking brain, one must ground themselves as soon as one realizes the emotions are being experienced.  Grounding involves finding a secure place where you KNOW you are secure and can keep the fight, flight, or freeze hormones from raging. This can involve recalling scriptures committed to memory (like Psalm 23 or Colossians 3.1-17) and sitting in a very secure manner and place.  

Once our thinking brain is operating, we must seek to understand the origin of these emotions and identify the triggers from our past that are being pulled. At times, we may feel emotions with no connection to the memories which initially fostered these feelings. We may need others (professional or not) to help us know what memory capsules are being released and why. This involves deep investigative work, often with another. I believe the Spirit can give us great insights here. 

Processing the emotions then involves agency* and recovery (to borrow Elizabeth Stanley’s terms). It is asking ourselves what agency do we have in the present as well as what agency did we have in the past. In the case of trauma, abuse, or other stressors, we may not have had any in the past, but we can go back and ask, “what would we have liked to do had we had agency.”  This is where role-playing helps. We can ask ourselves, ”Where was God in all of this?” This was the point of Seamands’ book.

This processing allows us to inform these emotions and events by the truths we know. I believe this is where truths about us and life found in Scripture come in. These truths inform and renew those emotive memories with a perspective that transforms them.  It doesn’t become just cognitive; this is where the cognitive work comes in.

Here is an illustration of this from my life these past five years. Somewhere in the last five years, I woke up after very lucid dreams feeling lonely and abandoned. I remember journaling about this. These dreams and feelings continued for several weeks until I realized that I did struggle with abandonment. I resisted this thought because I had a great relationship with my mom. However, I believe this was God’s gentle push to deal with this issue in my life. I spent time to identify the events which led to this. Eventually, as I identified all events in my life which were traumatic I became aware of a number of dating situations where girls dumped me publicly and humiliating me before others.  

As I continued to process this, I realized how so many of my actions today were influenced by this fear of abandonment. It was one of the reasons I lacked self-differentiation. For me, it wasn’t just realizing what was at the root of this feeling that helped, but help came as I realized what agency did I have in those situations.  That is when the truth came through: I set myself up for abandonment through the way I approached dating.  

I actually chose girls who were real eye-candy. In other words, I intentionally chose girls who would add to my self-concept by their beauty. I, therefore, felt I needed to be the best looking, acting, smartest…guy to keep them. And I sought to be such. I was always trying to prove my “greatness” to them. And in each case, they found another guy who was better looking, acting, or more popular to dump me for. So, by the very nature of the rules I set up for the girls, I would date, I was asking for abandonment.

There was not the healthy concept being loved for who I was, warts and all. So, if I ever did let my guard down, it gave them a reason to move on. My sense of agency was used to create the perfect storm where I would be abandoned. Wow.

I fully realize many of you reading this may say you had no agency in the trauma, and you may be correct. Initially, I didn’t think I did either. In those situations where you had none, this is where having a professional experience this with you and giving you agency to say or do what was needed can be of great help.

As I dwelt on this through the Spirit’s perspective and the Scriptures’ truths, I felt released from the need to be the best…and the fear of abandonment. It was like I was let out of prison. I now continue to live in this truth. I know if I fell back into being the best basis for love, I would consequently experience the fear of abandonment.  

And to think I am in my 60’s wrestling through this. 

*Agency begins with what you let into your mind—meaning what comes in from your environment. If you are lacking agency, it’s likely your attention is being hijacked and you need to figure out how to restore it. Source:

Pastor Gadget

I left the church which I planted after 14 years with no permanent place to call an office or church facility. The church was wonderful on my departure and one of the things they gave me was a nameplate for my desk which read: “Pastor Gadget”.  I was touched and knew they understood my heart. Ironically, MK thought they were having fun with me. Either way, gadgets have been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. 

So here are a few of the latest gadgets which I find very helpful with a mobile office or traveling a lot. As I said in my introduction to my blog, I have done the research and then purchased these all with my own money. None were given to me for me to review. 

Since all (most) of the people I serve are not local, my computer serves as my desk.  But my clients don’t see my computer, they see my screen (camera) and they hear my voice through a microphone all coming through my internet connection. So when I am not traveling, my local computer and its interfaces have the capacity to make a tremendous difference. I was on a meeting with a church board today and one of the members had a connectivity issue, and we heard every third word. He was clueless even when everyone mentioned it. His input was actually discounted because of his connectivity. 

1. My office: standing desk (adjustable height, camera, microphone, back-lighting, monitor, MacBook stand, etc.

Here are the links to what makes up my home office. I do have 450 mb download bandwidth which keeps my video flawless and I never miss a comment.

Sony Alpha camera, lens, cables and connectors, Yeti microphone, mounting system, and LG monitor ($1500)

Some may cringe at spending $2500 for my whole setup.  But remember this is my office. I easily spend 40-50 hours a week using some or all these devices. Every week of the year. I can honestly say they have made my life easier and much more functional. 

I buy some of my gadgets simply because they are cool, and I am an early adopter.  However, that isn’t so with this setup. I don’t get weary eyes from staring at a computer monitor or straining my voice to be heard. I can speak in normal tones and my clients can hear and see me as if I am there in real-time. I am in clear focus and don’t need to worry about lighting, even with evening appointments. Everything just works like it would in a face-to-face meeting.  If you have talked with me via zoom during the last several years, you understand what I am saying.

In fact, I had a son of a famous author say to me before he had been introduced to me on a zoom call: “Tell me what setup you are using, you look and sound like you are right next to me.”  He bought the setup and I coached him through getting it operational. Unfortunately, he didn’t buy anything from us. 

Here are a few other gadgets I use. 

Because I travel a lot, headphones with noise cancellation are essential (photo #2). I used to have to worry about charging my headset before I left for fear of having it go dead on the flight, this happened more than once. Then I came across  Urbanista: Los Angeles headphones ($159). They are solar-charged, wireless, and noise canceling. Even the little light above the seat in the airplane is enough to charge them…you never run out of power.  I love them.

Speaking of headphones, I have had my share of earphones and earbuds (photo #3). I ride and run with them as well as use them when online at home. A friend introduced me to Aftershox conduction earphones ($159) which are the bone-conduction type. They are unbelievable.  I wear them all day and they never hurt or cause problems. I can hear because they don’t block the ear canal and all of the sound passes through the bone in front of your ear.  Before you write them off, try them. I have used them for two years and would never go back to air pods. They are waterproof, never fall off and allow you to hear ambient noise around you. For that reason, you don’t want to use them on an airplane. That is why I have my Urbanista headset given earlier.  

My home office wouldn’t be complete without my Stand up desk and chair (photo #1). I have used this setup for about five years and love it. I stand the entire day and my legs and back don’t tire.  I find it difficult to sit through a debrief or a meeting where everyone is seated. Once you are used to standing, you will never go back. Unfortunately, I just priced this desk and chair and noticed it is 2.5 times what I paid for it; I think Covid created a market where many people equipped home offices.

The last thing to round out my office is my pen and steno pad (photo #4). Yes, I still do some things the old way and this Ti Bolt Action Pen (with 0.38mm refill) is the best for writing thin notes to myself while online or in a meeting. I also use the old steno pad which really works well for me.  Over the years, I have tried probably 20 different organizational tools, but I come back to this simple method of keeping a running log of notes and to-dos.

The last part of making my home office complete is my coffee espresso. 

I don’t drink coffee, in fact, I haven’t drunk coffee since my college days. But somewhere around 53 years of age, after traveling Europe and Latin America, I found I really enjoyed drinking drinks made with espresso and milk (and often with chocolate or caramel). The first time I had a Nicaraguan woman make me caffe con leche from scratch with real unhomogenized milk in Cuba, I was hooked. So I began to look for specialty drinks to my preference here in the states.,

I eventually bought my own espresso machine about 7 years ago (photo #5) and Mary Kay literally thought I had lost my senses. I gradually began making my own lattes and cappuccinos and discovered I like a light roast much more than the dark (read burnt) roast that many (Starbucks) coffee shops made famous. Starbucks eventually came out with their blond roast for light roast aficionados like me. However, as usual, it costs more! Really? So I now roast my own beans from a single source in Ethiopia. Here are three devices that I have found beneficial in my coffee snobbery addiction. The first (photo #6) creates the best lattes using oat milk. I have used several frothers including the wand that comes with my espresso machine. But nothing compares to the foam and heating capacity of this Secura milk frother.

The second keeps my latte warm (photo #7) while I am standing at my desk, I tried the real expensive versions sold by Starbucks and others, this one is simple, cheaper, and actually works better: Cosori cup heater.

I am no longer in a hurry to drink my latte because this heater will heat it up to 130 degrees Fahrenheit for eight hours. 

Lastly, because I like a light roast, I roast my beans on a SR 800 Coffee Bean roaster. It is very simple and easy to watch YouTube videos on how to do it. I did buy a glass extender on Ebay for this roaster which allows me to roast more beans at one time, however, I don’t think it is available at this time. 

So that is my home office, complete.  And I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else in the world for my office. 

Are you guilty or hungry?

I grew up spiritually in an environment that emphasized the importance of a daily devotional. I was nurtured to read the Bible often. However, I struggled for years to make this a regular part of my daily routine. Eventually, while leading a small group of loving friends, I developed consistency in Bible reading, prayer, and journaling. This group provided a loving, accountable environment for these disciplines to develop. I needed the peer pressure of reporting every week how I had done in each of those three categories (and more!) during the last seven days to establish the regimen as a regular part of my life. 

But that was almost 40 years ago.  And my life and perspective have changed dramatically over these last four decades.  I read through the Bible more than 17 times before I gave up on the race through the scriptures.  I had memorized over 65 passages of scripture before I began to select longer passages that were significant to my life and walk with Christ.  Through raising 3 kids and starting several churches I found that I needed to establish grace in my early mornings.  Everything didn’t always fit into a daily devotional sequence. Life happened; we were up all night with an ailing child or mother, and I had a 6:00 am study to lead or a sermon to deliver…life happened. 

I didn’t give up on a consistent time of scripture study, prayer, and journaling, it morphed.  It was no longer an exercise or discipline, but rather a way of life or a lifestyle. Now, I no longer feel guilty when I miss my time in these or other practices, I feel hungry

This is an important distinction.  When I miss a physical meal, I don’t feel guilty! Do you?  NO, we feel hungry. If I don’t feel hungry, I realize there is something wrong with my physical health.  As my faith has matured and grown, I too get hungry for scripture, prayer, and journaling. I don’t feel guilty. As with my physical meals, if I don’t feel spiritually hungry after missing a time or two, I know something is wrong.

Several years ago, I went through a dry time where I really didn’t feel hungry.  I realized that I was spiritually dry and needed some spiritual intervention.  Mary Kay and I began reading together every morning, which we had not done through most of our marriage. This intervention was intentional and designed to again bring vibrancy and vitality back into my walk with Christ. 

So I no longer feel guilty if I miss my spiritual time of nutrition, but I do feel hungry.  And if I don’t experience hunger after a while, I know I am not well. 

Oh, the grace we experience as we mature in our faith…

Are you a judge or coach?

Last week I talked about my tendency to be more cognitive than emotive in my faith. I will no doubt remain that way for the rest of the cruise. I talked about the importance of knowing our God-given creative genius so that we can better understand how God wants to distinctively use us in redeeming his world. 

I now want to deal with the danger of elevating our own unique strengths to be the standard for everyone else. Most of us do it all the time without being aware of it. We expect others to see the whole world through the unique set of eyes that God has given us.  Then, when others don’t view life like we do, it is easy for us to become critical of them.

Let me share a personal example of how this works in me.  

I look at highly emotive Christians and think they are crazy. It is easy for me to find faults in their spiritual formation because they are so easily “tossed to and fro” in their spiritual trajectory. I simply don’t understand how someone can walk into a worship service and immediately raise their hands, fall to their knees, or sway back and forth the moment they get to their seat. It just doesn’t make sense to me.

Before all of you write me off as a cold and calloused person…keep reading.

Here in lies the trap: we all tend to project our strengths onto others. We think everyone should grow in, see, or experience God the way we do. If not, they are clearly wrong! Of course, we don’t say that, but it does show in the way we treat others. We recently saw this lived out in the way people responded differently to Covid. 

I have seen it in Spiritual Gifts for most of my adult life. We project our own gifting on others. Your Spiritual Gifts dramatically impact the way you view the church. It colors everything you see in ministry. It took me a few years as a pastor to figure this out. I had people come to me and say, “I think we as a church should do/be_____” (you fill in the blank). I eventually learned to respond, “I think that is a great idea, when are you going to start and how can we equip you to do it?!” Most of the time, they weren’t satisfied, because they felt everyone in the church should see it the way they do. We call it gift projection, and you can see why.

People used to say, aren’t you glad everyone in the world isn’t like you and I used to think, “No actually, I think the world would be a lot better off if they were”. Obviously, I didn’t say this but I thought it. However, after some significant breaking in my life, that is a time of having to accept that I am NOT as much as I once thought, I have come to see that God is so creative and that is an element of his beauty. Just look at nature around you: the variety of birds, flowers, sunsets, trees, fish, insects, animals, and yes, humans. No two are alike. 

There is a big difference between owning your own strengths and projecting these on others, but it can be a tendency within all of us. Let me encourage you to do as I am learning to do. I thank God for the way he has wired me and is giving me wisdom and perspective to fully comprehend how I can be who he has created me to be without expecting others to be JUST LIKE ME. I take a moment and dwell on the other person’s strengths that allow them to act so differently from me. I fully embrace how their differences stand in contrast to mine without trying to resolve one being better than the other, just different. And I thank God for the way he wired them.

Now, I am glad that people see life much differently than I do. My life is given to coaching them in their strengths, not judging them in their weaknesses.

What is unique in you?

I have had several individuals who know me describe me as more cerebral than emotional.  From the inside, this doesn’t feel right, but I understand how they can say that. I have degrees in engineering and statistic, which would imply more cognitive than emotive.  However, much of my childhood would best be described as impulsive and free-spirited.  And I loved the classes in all my schooling which weren’t cut and dried content.

Much of my walk with Christ has also been formed through the study of God’s word and the books I have read. I have grown in my understanding of the faith and my walk with Christ more from a cognitive perspective. I am more of a thinker and that is okay. It is one of the ways I am uniquely made. My growth history and profile may look very different from others. This is what Paul is telling us in Ephesians 2.8-10

8-9For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

The first two verses (8 & 9) clearly describe the foundation of a new life in Christ and verse 10 describes the result of this new life. We are told that we are a masterpiece (one-of-a-kind novel), for which he has designed good workings that only each of us can do. No one else can do the things that God has designed for you to do.

I find it interesting how often we get the foundation and the result mixed up. So many people try to work enough for God to be accepted by him and never experience the freedom of being who God created them to be. Rather, this passage clearly asserts there is nothing you can do to earn God’s approval, but as you accept his gift of new life in Christ by faith, then you experience a quality of life that enables you to BE who he really created you to be.

Think about it. You didn’t come into a new life to get into heaven. The gospel isn’t about fire insurance. I know that may upset some of you reading this, but as you experience freedom that results from this gift of God, called grace; you are free to be the unique person and do unique things that only you can do. 

Think of how many cool things this world has missed because people never embraced their distinctive role here on earth. They didn’t engage with God to do and be who he created them to be. So what exceptional workings does God want to do in and through you?  Long ago, I realized this doesn’t mean everyone else will notice. Quite to the contrary, it may only be between you and your Lord. But he will know and so will you.

You are God’s plan A. God has no plan B. There is no backup for you.

Read verse 10 again.

God has designed you into the very fabric of this universe. God did this by intentionally putting into you some very very unique characteristics that you don’t share with anyone else.  AND because of the irreplaceable nature you possess, he wants to walk with you in life (this present life and beyond) working in ways that are specifically designed for you. You will be able to do things no one else can do! You will be able to be someone no one else can be!

I would contend (along with Dallas Willard, CS Lewis, and many others), that these exclusive attributes of yours will follow you into eternity. You are just going to sit on a cloud playing a harp, but rather doing what only you are equipped to do.

Wow, only this can give eternal value to each of us in Christ.

Next week I want to talk about what is not okay with being unique. I wished some people could really celebrate their uniqueness, while I wish others wouldn’t expect or export their unique perspective onto others.

What Do You Read?

So how much of what you read or listen to do you agree with? I have been criticized by some Christians for the kinds of authors I read. I read very widely and a lot. However, I read authors who profess no faith in Christ as often as those who do. Even within the Christian faith, I read or listen to many who think and believe much differently than I. 

Why do I read people who are so different than me? Let me first confess that I used to brag that I graduated from the University of Michigan with an Engineering degree without having read a book. I am not proud of this now, but I was then. I used “Cliff Notes”, (something younger individuals won’t understand) to skim my way through the language art courses in high school and college. I am embarrassed by this today. 

However, after graduating from college, I started dating seriously and realized I had no clue how to do it well. So I started reading books on dating and marriage. I soon learned that authors often didn’t agree on the same subjects, so I decided to read a lot in this area using my own mind as an incubator of what I was reading. 

The subjects expanded quickly and my thirst for learning has continued unabated for the past 47 years since then. I learned that by reading people who disagree with each other and even me, I would learn and grow in unanticipated ways. My faith deepened and I struggled through my own issues and reading. My walk with Christ is so much deeper today because of the way I have been stretched to think and walk in new ways. I am not talking about deconstructing my faith as is so often discussed today by those who are jettisoning their faith. No, I was learning to love the Lord with all my heart, with all my mind, and with all my soul and strength.

So why do sincere Christians find fault with me because I read widely? Many followers of Christ think you should only fill your mind with people who think or act like you do. This doesn’t really promote learning; I would suggest it promotes confirming. These are totally different concepts. Learning means I am forced to think in a new way. I consider what I know or believe and weigh it with the new information I am taking in. Confirming implies I already know all I need to know and all I need to do is find more reasons to continue to believe what I do.

I am glad when I married Mary Kay I didn’t assume I knew all I needed to know about her and our relationship; even after 10, 20, 30, or 40 years I didn’t figure I knew all I needed to know. I am glad I didn’t just confirm what I knew (or thought I knew) when we got married, but I have continued to learn. Now, after 45 years of marriage, we are still learning, growing, and changing in our relationship. I am sometimes startled by something in her or me that I had no clue of before. We are still growing.

The same is in our relationship with our Lord. I hope you would be open to learning, changing, and even being surprised by some things which are different from what you thought you knew in the past. 

Too many Christians find comfort in thinking they know all they need to know. There is no longer a seeking of God, or their seeking is doing it in all the ways they have done it before. Both the Old Testament and New Testament are filled with passages about our need to continue to seek God. We are to continue to grow in our understanding of our relationship with Him throughout our entire lifetimes.

I love Paul’s acknowledgment when he writes in Philippians 3

8-9What is more, I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith. 
10-11I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, to attain to the resurrection from the dead.
12Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 
13-14Brothers, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.

Philippians 3:8-14

Paul considered everything a loss compared to knowing Christ deeply. He was so secure in this intimate relationship that he didn’t consider what he knew or where he was or even who he was at this point as something to hold on to. No, even late in his life when he wrote this letter to the Philippians, he still felt there was so much more to learn. So forgetting what he had learned, he continued to press on or strive to know Christ more intimately which surely required learning things anew.

I know Paul read material he didn’t agree with. He quotes a pagan poet in Athens (Acts 17.28) when he talked to the philosophers of his day. Paul was always learning right up to his last days on earth (2 Timothy 4.13). 

My prayer is that I, too, will be learning and growing in my walk with Christ until my last days on earth.

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