10 Tips on Writing a Good Letter…When a Letter is the Best Way to Communicate

By | Church, Family | 5 Comments

Writing a letter is sometimes the best way to communicate effectively.

When I was doing professional counseling with people who were experiencing difficulty in a relationship, I often encouraged them to practice the art of letter writing. Most of the time I tried to help them improve their one-to-one communication skills, but some things are easier and better to express on paper than in person.

For example, a letter may be needed when a couple cannot communicate without arguing, or when one person refuses to listen to reason, or if you can’t even get an audience with the other person. It could be best when one person is so intimidating to talk to you can’t get a word in verbally. Or, it could be you are too emotional every time you try to address the issue you can’t get your point across adequately. And, some people express their best thoughts only when they have time to think about them.

It’s not as impersonal as it may seem. It may actual be more personal. Some things seem to convey more importance and get closer attention if they are written rather than simply spoken.

A letter allows you to think through what you have to say and cuts down on reactionary arguments, which naturally come when trying to discuss something controversial. A letter will usually be read several and even many times; further enforcing the points you are trying to make. A letter is harder to dismiss than a verbal conversation.

Please note, I am NOT suggesting an email. This is letter writing. It requires a paper and pen, or at least a printer and paper. Email quickly becomes an exchange of ideas, which can almost be as counter-productive as the verbal communication. It’s too easy to hit the “reply” or “forward” button quickly with emails. Who wants something this personal being placed on the Internet?

This is often a near “final straw” kind of approach, so put the time into it that it requires.

I’m also not advocating that you avoid personal conversations, but if the situation calls for it, write a letter.

Here are 10 things to remember before writing your letter:

  • Spend as much time praying about it as you spend writing the letter.
  • Edit, then edit, and then edit again. (Again if needed.)
  • Write with an end goal to benefit the receiver and the overall situation in mind. (This should eliminate some things you probably shouldn’t say anyway; and you’ll be more Christ-like.)
  • Just as you should do in verbal communication, don’t attack the person; address the issue. Leave personal jabs out of the letter. Try not to start a sentence with “you” or use the word “always”. It puts people on the defensive. (This is what editing is all about.)
  • Try to express your true heart and feelings, but limit your anger emotion. Remember, you are attempting to say those things, which for whatever reason, you aren’t able to say effectively in person. Don’t lose your audience by “going off” on the person.
  • The goal is not to be a martyr; no one responds well to that approach. The goal is to be transparent and communicate effectively.
  • Make sure you dedicate as much or even more time focusing on the part you have played in developing a bad relationship or situation. Consider the other person’s viewpoint. Put yourself in their shoes. Use the sandwich approach. Start kindly, with grace, state your point, then close with kindness and grace – as much as you can. And, if an apology is needed from you, give it clearly and completely in the letter.
  • Be clear about the points you are trying to convey. Read them back to yourself. This is one of the best benefits of letter writing. You have the opportunity to clearly think through your response; so don’t lose your chance here.
  • Before you send the letter, ask yourself: “How would I respond if someone sent this letter to me?”
  • If you aren’t certain about the quality of your letter, give these instructions and the letter to someone else (whom you trust) and ask them to read it. Let them tell you how they would respond if they received this letter.

Remember, this is not a miracle cure, so don’t expect immediate results. The person may not respond the way you would have them to and you may not even know they have read the letter. You can almost be assured they will!

Don’t be afraid to write this kind of letter if you sense it’s warranted. You don’t write this kind of letter often, because it does carry more weight. But if the situations merits it, this can be an effective way to communicate. Chances are if you live a normal life there will be a few situations, which merit the true art of letter writing. Write well!

7 Ways To Honor Your Pastor’s Spouse

By | Christians, Church, Encouragement, Family | 54 Comments

One of the toughest jobs in the church is that of being a pastor’s wife. No doubt I have one of the best in Cheryl. (I would say the best, but I have a co-pastor and he has an excellent one also!) Cheryl has a full-time professional job, is an excellent mom and wife, but the demands on her as my wife are often overwhelming. Still she handles it with grace and a smile.

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7 Ways I Protected My Family Life as a Pastor

By | Call to Ministry, Church, Church Planting, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Marriage | 49 Comments

If a pastor is not careful, the weight of everyone else’s problems will take precedence over the issues and concerns of his immediate family. I see it frequently among pastors I encounter. There have been seasons of my ministry where this is the case, especially on abnormally stressful days.

I decided years ago when I was a small business owner, serving in an elected office and on dozens of non-profit boards that my busyness would never detract from my family life.

Here are 7 ways I attempt to protect my family from the stress of ministry.

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5 Steps to Improve Every Relationship in Your Life

By | Church, Family, Leadership | 3 Comments

Do you want to improve the relationships of your life?

Tremendously improve them. Every. Single. One.

Whether in business, ministry, marriage or friendships – whether you are a leader or serve on a team – if you improve in one area, every relationship of your life will improve. Guaranteed.

How, you ask?

I’ll tell you how.

Become a better listener.

That’s it. And, it sounds simple, but if you’re honest, you know it is not.

Listening is a dying art. There are truly few good listeners in the world it seems these days. We hear lots, but we listen so poorly. And, in fairness to all of us, there is far too much noise to really listen.

The word listen is defined so much stronger than just to hear. There’s an attentiveness. An intentional effort. A designed purpose for hearing.

And, one secret to improving every relationship is to improve your own listening skills.

And, in full disclosure, I’ll admit I’m not one of those naturally skilled at listening. Ask my wife. And, she actually is an expert listener. I’m quick to find an answer, assume I know what you’re going to say, or grow impatient if I think you’re taking too long to share the details.

I know how to listen. I was supposedly trained in one of my master’s degrees. In being trained to be a counselor, we were taught how to listen. It’s important for the profession. Knowing how and actually doing it are not always equal functions. Again, ask my wife. (And, by the way, I was never a very good counselor and that was probably one of the primary reasons. I was too eager to fix problems at times.)

But, enough about my poor listening skills, the question before we proceed is do you want to be a better listener?

Or, maybe a better question, do you want to improve all the relationships in your life?

I do. It’s actually a matter of personal discipline I try to practice – when I remember to do so. I can tell you how or – at least some ways from the training I’ve received. If you’ll read with an intent to listen you might learn some tips, which will help you improve every relationship in your life.

Here are 5 steps to being a better listener:

Genuinely want to hear.

This is where it all starts. The most important one. Usually this one alone makes all the difference. It’s true in every relationship – including our relationship with God. We have to want to hear what the other person has to say. Not what we hope they say or think they are going to say, but what are they actually saying.

And, the more we want to hear the more intentional we will be to listen.

Think of it this way – if someone was talking about a potential job you really wanted you’d listen for every detail you could glean. If you were a single guy pursuing the girl of your dreams and overheard someone talking about her – you’d listen. Really listen. You’d want to hear every detail. You’d soak up every morsel you could possibly attain.

The process of getting better at listening begins when we value the relationship enough to truly want to hear; so much that we listen. When we truly care enough about the subject or the person communicating that we’ll discipline yourself to listen.

Don’t try to respond until the other party is finished.

This is so huge. It’s one I’m most guilty of doing wrong. Once again, just ask my wife.

But, it is so damaging to good listening when we interrupt. (Now there are actually counseling techniques, which can help direct a person’s thoughts when they are rambling, but that’s not what I’m referring to here.) This means you don’t finish their sentences – even in your mind. When you do you come to false conclusions – and it devalues what the other person is trying to communicate.

We don’t assume we know what the other party is saying before they even say it. We have to stop completing thoughts in our own mind and actually listen. It devalues the person and their message when we don’t give them time to deliver it – in their way of communicating. And, yes, it takes longer for some than others.

And, this is not to say some people can’t improve in learning to share their story. And, not ramble so much. But, this is a post about listening. And, for that, if we truly value the other person, we need to discipline ourselves to hear, even if a person isn’t yet a master at communicating.

Slow down.

Some people think they listen faster than they actually do. Yea, I’m one of those too.

For good listening, it’s important to remove any distractions. Put the phone down. Turn off the television. Close the laptop. This is not the time to show you’re good at multitasking. In the office environment, I have learned I need to step away from my desk and take notes, as I attempt to listen. Even if I could genuinely hear everything being said it communicates I’m listening when I am removed of obvious potential distractions.

Make sure the time and place is adequate also. You may need to schedule an appointment to make sure you are completely available to engage. You may not always be “available” to listen when someone is ready to share. Properly listening takes time. Be honest.

I’ve had to be honest with people when my immediate schedule just wouldn’t accommodate the time they deserve to adequately listen to their story — such as a few minutes before I was about to preach on Sunday mornings. So we could schedule a time – or, sometimes we could schedule a time with someone else completely. Maybe I wasn’t even the right person. But, that doesn’t eliminate the person’s need for someone to listen.

(By the way, I’ve learned in leadership, many times conflicts are eliminated or diminished when people feel someone in leadership has actually listened to their concerns.)

Focus on the voice.

I’m using the word “voice” as a descriptor of the one who is hoping you will listen. Give them your undivided attention.

Look into the person’s eyes. Watch for their body language. We are all unique in how we communicate. Strive to understand their unique style. Engage with them with appropriate responses. A nod of the head when appropriate communicates you are listening.

I often tell people in advance, for example, that taking notes helps me listen better. Then I can refer back to something later in the conversation if I didn’t completely understand.

(Another leadership tip I especially give younger leaders. Never show up to a meeting with someone you are hoping to listen to for advice or wisdom without something on which to write what they share. That communicates you intend to listen also – and, it helps you remember what they said later.)

Ask questions.

Here’s the foolproof way to make sure you actually heard what was intended and that you were actually listening. (This is where they trained us to be good counselors — and it works.)

Especially if you have any doubts of what the person means, simply ask. Get clarity. Asking questions is one of the best ways to communicate that you care and that you are truly listening. And, it helps eliminate misunderstandings.

Try questions such as, “So is what I hear you saying is…?” “Is this what you mean…?” And, then repeat back in your own words what you think the person is saying. Additionally, look for more than is being said. Many times questions help pull out what the other person thought was clear, but wasn’t. Then ask better questions to get to what they are actually trying to communicate.

This last one is so important in leadership. Sometimes in the pace of life we fail to actually listen to what people have to say. I always believe the answers are in the room if we take time to truly listen to what people have to say.

Here’s to better listening. I don’t know about you, but I could stand to improve in this area.

What tips do you have?

10 Suggestions for Healthy Grieving

By | Church, Family, Fear | 19 Comments

For 16 years, part of my work was helping people grieve. And, honestly, it was helping people learn how to grieve. It was not one of my favorite roles, because it always stemmed from the reasons why they needed to grieve. It meant someone was hurt. It represented brokenness. There was pain, disappointment, even anger associated. That never felt good.

Yet the fact remains, part of living in a fallen world is living among the thorns. We must learn to grieve, because there will always be reasons to do so.

As much as we need to know how to grieve, however, I continually meet people who either don’t know how or refuse to allow themselves to grieve. I’ve even met well-meaning believer who believe they shouldn’t. The Scripture is clear. We do grieve. We simply don’t grieve like the rest of the world.

Here are 10 suggestions for healthy grieving:

Don’t deny the pain. It hurts. Admit it. Be honest with yourself with others and especially with God. If anger is your current emotion, admit it. If it’s profound sadness – be honest about it. You’ve got to grieve at some point to move forward, and you’ll grieve sooner and better if you’re honest about the need.

Learn to pray. Grieving can draw you close to the heart of God. See that as one blessing in the midst of pain. The Scripture is clear. We are to draw close to God and He will draw close to us. He is close to the broken hearted. Use this difficult time to build a bond with God that you’ll never regret having.

Remain active. You may not feel like being around people, but if you’re normally a very social person, discipline yourself in this area. Granted, some people were never very social, even before their grief. We shouldn’t expect much more from them in grief, but even for them, community matters. Don’t shelter yourself from others.

Stay healthy. Eat well and exercise. Sleep as regularly as you can. Stick to a schedule. You’ll need the strength to carry you through this time.

Help others. There is a special blessing that comes from serving others that can help you recover from your own pain. Serve at a soup kitchen. Deliver toys to needy children. Find a way to give back and you’ll invest in the health of your own heart.

Journal your thoughts and feelings. This is huge and many people miss it. One day you’ll be glad you wrote things down, because you’ll see the process God has taken you through and the healing He has allowed you to experience. You’ll need these reminders again some day.

Give it time. Grieving doesn’t complete itself in a day – or a week – or even a year. The depth of the pain always is relative to the time of a sense of recovery. And, some pain never leaves us. We simply learn to adapt to it. We learn to find contentment and even joy in the midst of sorrow and loss.

Share your story. You help others when you allow others to see you share and understand their pain. When you hide your story, you deny others of the privilege of healing through your experience.

Get help when needed. Don’t suffer alone. There are times all of us can use professional help. Don’t be ashamed to seek it.

Remember hope. If you are a follower of God, then the best days of your life are still to come. Even in your darkest days, remember, one day – every tear shall one day be wiped from your eyes, by God himself. Even today, you are in good hands.

You can get up, recover and move forward again even stronger than you were before, but please don’t fail to grieve. It’s necessary, vital, healthy and even Biblical. (1 Thessalonians 4)

Praying for you who need to grieve.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4)

7 Suggestions for Parenting Adult Children

By | Children, Family, Parenting | 13 Comments

I was talking to another dad. We were comparing notes. Both of us are empty nesters. We equally recognized that being the parent of adult children is sometimes more difficult than when the children are still at home.

That’s hard for some parents with teenage children to believe, isn’t it?

Or the parent with multiple children still in diapers, right?

But, it is – sometimes.

When adult children leave the home you don’t have much control over their lives. You are no longer “raising” them. Your only hope is to influence them.

The “raising” part was mostly done when they graduated from high school. Maybe even when they got their driver’s license. Parenting moves primarily to influencing when they are away from you more than with you and when they can pretty much do what they want to do when they are away from you.

That’s why it’s important to grab their heart early so your influence sticks. And, still, sometimes it sticks and sometimes it doesn’t and there’s little you can do about that when they are on their own. But, it doesn’t lower your concern for them, your desire to help them, or your thoughts about them — hence the hardness at times.

So, what should the parents of adult children do?

Well, I’m still fairly new and still learning at this one. I have learned a few things. And, I’ve learned a few more from countless hours spent with other parents of adult children – and their children. As a pastor, parenting adult children was a common struggle in our churches.

I can’t tell you how many strained relationships, bitterness, hurt and even anger I’ve witnessed over the years with adult children. I know some young adults who, though they still speak, avoid their parents influence because of the way it has been offered to them. I know some parents of adult children who are miserable watching their adult children make bad decisions, but not knowing how to reach them.

Thankfully, I have a wonderful relationship with my two adult children. They are two of my best friends. But, I’m careful. I want to protect my influence in their life. And, I know the lines are delicate at times.

So, I offer these thoughts with reservation, knowing that I don’t know it all, but I do have some “experienced” thoughts.

Here are 7 suggestions for parenting adult children:

Pray continually – Pray like crazy for your adult kids. Intercede for them. You don’t even have to tell them you are – although occasionally I suspect they’d like to hear it, even if they act like they don’t. In fact, discipline yourself that when you’re tempted to worry about them you start to pray for them. It’s far more powerful and one of the best ways you can influence them.

Speak reservedly – Don’t share every opinion you have about how they should be handling their life. That’s a key word. It’s “their” life. And, they may not tell you in so many words, but most adult children want to live their life. Just like you probably want to live yours. You can share on occasion, especially when asked or you know they are about to make a major mistake, but if you share everything it will eventually be noise not influence in their life. The sobering reality is when you offer too much input into, again “their” life, you diminish the impact of your voice when they need it most.

Model for them – Be the maturer one in the relationship. That makes sense, right? You’ve got more experience, shouldn’t you have more maturity?

I’ve known parents who give the silent treatment to their adult children, because they didn’t call when they should or perform as they expected. Is that the mature response? And, does it work? It may guilt a response, but it doesn’t promote health in the relationship.

I know others who use manipulative innuendos or put undue pressure on their adult children to call them, be at certain events, or just to respond to them emotionally in a certain way. (And, I get it. You miss their attention and long for it.) But, again, depending on your skill of manipulation it may guilt a response, but it doesn’t build the long, lasting and healthy relationship you will eventually want to have with your children.

Model the behavior you think your adult children should have. They will likely follow actions more than words.

Remember you were once their age. That’s a key. Remember what it was like to be their age. You wanted to explore. You had dreams. You were scared at times. Confused. Not sure what steps to take. Some days you were just trying to hold it all together. You didn’t know everything. You were still learning. (Hopefully you still are.) You got aggravated at parents at times. And, those parents got aggravated at you. Remember? Try to identify with them by remembering you at their age again. You can influence them better if you can identify more with their season of life.

Keep the door open. Always be available to them when they make themselves available to you. (Even when they wander. Remember the Prodigal Son story we love so much!) As soon as you close the door to them, when you draw hard lines on the ground or place strict rules upon the relationship, it will be much harder to open the door again. That doesn’t mean you have to let them take advantage of you. (That’s not even good love.) You can set boundaries, especially those, which are in your home or for their ultimate good. (But, make sure it’s for their good and not for your personal preferences.) There may be some non-negotiable issues, but let those be rare. Be generous with grace and forgiveness. Remember, you’re trying to develop a long-term opportunity to influence them.

Love them more than their life. You may not love all the decisions they are making. You may even think they are making a mistake. Again, if there’s an open door to share your insight — share it. I find writing a letter is sometimes the best way, especially if communication is strained. But, the fact is again, you are not raising — you’re influencing. And, they may or may not accept your influence. So, love them — generously and unconditionally — more than you love the current decisions they are making with their life. And, make sure they know how unconditional your love is also. It will guard your influence — if not now — in the future. And, you’ll be very thankful you did in the days ahead.

Guard the heart. Guard your heart and theirs – above all else (Proverbs 4:23). Keep in mind you want the opportunity to speak into their life for years to come. Be intentional here. Be careful making statements or doing things you may later regret or that will push them further away from you. When you pray, pray for their heart – and yours. Just as you tried to protect their heart all those years they were in your home, keep protecting their heart.

Hopefully, if influence is protected, if they can understand your intentions towards them are good and you will have invitation to speak into their life, from your success, your failure, and your experience.

And, lastly, remember, you raised them for this. You raised them to be adults and to embrace the world and to take risks and to be themselves and to be who God designed them to be. They’ll explore just as you did and they’ll make mistakes just as you did. Lord willing, and with good intentionality, your best days (and some of the funnest days) are still to come as a parent. Happy parenting!

I’m still learning, so what insight do you have for me – those of you who have had adult children even longer than I have?

10 Ideas for Teaching Children Generosity

By | Children, Encouragement, Family, Parenting | One Comment

I have had conflict most of my life between what I think I want and what I really need.

My suspicion is there are many people that share this conflict with me.

This conflict also appears in children as well.

We don’t have to teach children to struggle with determining between wants and needs. It’s a natural response to life. And, if they need any help doing so — they can easily learn the struggle from us.

As parents we are the primary shapers of our children’s attitudes towards the world, including things such as money, personal possessions and desires, but also how they treat other people. Our children will either have a bent towards being “givers” or “takers” in society. Of course, every child is their own unique person, and that will be greatly influenced by the life they live in our home.

How do we teach children generosity?

How do we help our children (and ultimately ourselves) be people who genuinely enjoy living sacrificial lives — considering the interest of others — being givers rather than takers as the Bible commands us to do?

Here are 10 ideas, which we tried to practice in our own home. It has been amazing to watch how our boys, now adults living independently on their own, have developed generous hearts towards others. They are far more generous towards others than I was at their age.

And, let me be clear. The fact that they turned out this way is all grace. God has blessed us greatly, but, we have been intentional to live out Biblical principles — and we have learned they work when applied “generously”.

Here are 10 ideas for teaching children generosity:

Have fun and be generous parents.

The story is told of Jesus and the disciples attending a wedding. The party had been going for a while when something tragic happened. They ran out of wine. That was a serious problem to the host of the party. It was a huge cultural embarrassment to run out of food or wine. Jesus took some big barrels of water and turned them into the best wine the people had that night. The people were overwhelmed.

The Bible says that was the very first miracle Jesus ever did. As culturally important as weddings were in those days, it still sounds like God met a want, rather than a need.

It is very clear that God is not trying to keep us from having what we want or from having fun in life. God is not opposed to blessing us with things we want, but may not even need. We should not be afraid to do the same with our children. If we can afford to, and if our children are living within the boundaries set for our home, we should not be afraid to give them gifts they simply want, but may not even need. (I thought I would start with an easy one first.)

Help children understand the difference between a need and a want.

This is huge. It is understandable why it is difficult to raise children who understand the difference between a need and a want when we as parents struggle with the same issues. This will take a lifetime of teaching, but the earlier we start the better.

As much as God wants to bless us with wants, if we study the Bible, God seems far more interested in helping fulfill our needs than He does in giving us everything we want. In fact, God never promises to provide our want list, yet He does promise to meet all our needs. (Philippians 4:19) Granted there are some that take verses like this out of context and teach that God gives us everything we ask for, but that doesn’t line up with the rest of Scripture.

The problem from a Biblical perspective is that we have a messed up system of determining need verses want. That thing inside us that chooses good over evil, better or best, need verses wants; is broken.

When we apply Biblical understanding, most actual needs go beyond just enjoyment for today or even just for me. For something to fall into the category of need it should provide some lasting value to society or at least to my own character. Needs, beyond basics such as food and water, become things like righteousness — and love, and joy, and peace, and contentment.

We can even ask ourselves, does this “thing” benefit someone more than just me? Does it add value to someone’s life or to my own character? A true need, in this context, almost becomes something that money cannot buy.

We should consistently invest Biblical principles into our children — helping them understand the things that matter to God. Helping children develop a hunger for things they need — as much as, or even more — than things they want.

Provide needs. Bless with wants.

It is important that parents consider their system of meeting needs versus wants. Of course, that begins with a proper understanding ourselves of needs versus wants.

Consider this question: Which gets more attention in your home?

Does having the latest technology take a bigger role than teaching children to be good citizens and to generously love others?

Does being the best on the traveling soccer or dance team have a higher priority than finding ways to serve others?

Either answer is your choice. You’re the parent, but if a goal is teaching children who in the future are generous adults you may have to consider some of the places you spend your energies and resources. When it comes to encouraging generosity, consideration should be given to use of what God has allowed us to have, such as time and money.

Our boys never did without basics needs. And, by needs here I’m even referring to housing, clothing, food, etc. They had plenty, but, there were probably things they wanted they didn’t have. In how they spent their time, we let them choose what they enjoyed doing, but we also limited the number of outside activities our boys could participate in at one time.

And, we looked for opportunities where we could give back to others. We prioritized our time. And, we prioritized our “stuff”. We didn’t try to keep up with everyone else in terms of the “toys” they had. Having to wait until a birthday or Christmas for something they really wanted wasn’t unusual to them.

Spend more time, energy and attention meeting needs than wants.

At Christmas time, birthdays, and other special occasions we ask children what they “want”. There is nothing wrong with that.

Most of the time we already know what they need. We don’t have to ask them if they need to be honest people. We don’t have to ask them if they need to have character, love others or be generous. We do not need to ask them if they need a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. We know they need those things.

We need to ask ourselves if we are spending as much time and energy helping them get what they need as we are trying to buy them what they want. Let’s be honest, providing for a want is more fun sometimes. But we must be willing to sacrifice even what makes us feel good as parents in order to do what is best for our children long-term. We need to give them what they need.

It’s much more fun to give them wants, but it is far more valuable to give them needs.

Model healthy personal choices between needs and wants.

I think we teach our children to value the need more than the want by first modeling it for them.

We cannot ask children to do something we are not willing to do ourselves. Children are smarter than that. Today’s generation is far more interested in truth and integrity than earlier generations. This generation despises hypocrisy.

If children see parents saying one thing and doing another, they will reject that as being truth. We need to model and teach our children the proper concepts concerning money. Ultimately teach them that we are to be responsible with what God has allowed us to have. (When we had to use our credit card for purchases, for example, we usually explained to them why and that we would be paying it off quickly.)

Children need to see their parents giving sacrificially of their time and resources. Volunteering at a soup kitchen may be a better activity for an upcoming special occasion than opening a bunch of gifts.

Help children make wise choices with their own money.

One of the primary reasons children should have access to their own money is so they can learn the value of it. Our children were always more careful spending “their” money than they are spending ours.

Talk with them about how they should spend their allowance, birthday, or even money they have earned on their own. Help them learn what the terms budget — and savings — and investment. And, tithe is still not a bad word either. Ultimately, they should give some to God, save some, and spend some for things they need or want (based on the system you have for meeting these in your home.)

We also freely discussed our own finances in front of our boys. We allowed them to know things like when things were tight financially and when we were giving to others.

Consider the “big picture” of your child’s life.

As a parent, we are a primary molder of our children. The choices they make in life. What they desire most will largely be impacted by us early in their life. Their desires in life will be greatly shaped by the life they live in our home. (That’s a scary thought — isn’t it?)

I heard a statistic once that children these days get 90% of everything they want in life. That doesn’t seem like the statistic for most of our adult want lists, does it? I can’t verify the statistic, but it sounds about right for most children I know — probably even for our own. The problem this creates is that somewhere children are going to face a stark reality in adulthood when we seldom have all that we “want”.

We have all heard stories of children of privilege who got everything they wanted in life, but who cannot seem to stay out of trouble as adults. They have no real sense of direction; no set of values to guide them, because they got everything they wanted in life, but nothing that they really needed!

We kept these principles in mind as we parented. We were raising them to be adults. That one thought changed our paradigm many times.

Keep children properly grounded in a material world.

Children need to know that the universe does not revolve around them. Our world as their parents may revolve around them, but the rest of the world thinks otherwise. Children need to have created times in their life where they have to wait for something they want. Teach and model for children a life that puts others needs and wants ahead of their own.

Don’t give children everything; even if you can afford it.

If children are encouraged by example to have a love of money — a love of stuff — chances are they will never have enough possessions in this world to be satisfied. (Read Ecclesiastes 5:10)

Plant within them a love of God, a love of people and a love of life and they will want to bless others — and the joy of their life will be much greater.

Regardless of how wealthy a family is children should not be so “privileged” that there are no longer any items on their “want” list. When this happens the child has a hard time developing a heart of giving, because they are often too consumed with acquiring more “stuff”.

We have to model simple living sometimes for our children. IT IS OKAY TO SAY NO TO YOUR CHILD! In fact, that may sometimes be the exact thing we need to say. Every trip to the mall should not produce a new toy! (Okay, I know number 9 hurts!)

Teach and model a love for God.

I saved the most important idea for last. Above all else, perhaps the greatest thing a parent can do to help children be generous people is to help them desire the things of God more than the things of this world. God is a generous God. The more we know and love Him, the more generous we become.

You don’t have to agree with all my ideas. You certainly don’t have to implement them. Again, you’re the parent. And, granted, parenting is hard. You can be the best parent, do everything the best you know how, and still every child responds in their own way. So, here’s a prayer your way. Be intentional. We need great parents. And, we need generous people.

Why I Don’t Always Give People an Answer

By | Church, Encouragement, Family, Leadership, Parenting | 19 Comments

I have a theory, which I practice often.

I’ve been using it for many years – as a leader, father, a friend, and a pastor. It’s not always what people come looking to me for, but I think it’s the best practice.

I don’t always give people answers.

  • As a pastor, people came to me for answers.
  • As a dad, my boys, now grown, often still come to me for answers.
  • As a friend, people come to me for answers.
  • As a counselor, people came to me for answers.
  • As a leader of a team, people come to me for answers.

In either case, I don’t always give people answers.

I don’t try to solve their problems for them. I know that seems hard to understand , maybe even cruel of me, unless you understand why I don’t.

Now, if there is a clear Biblical answer for their problem or issue, I give it to them, as I understand it. And, there are certainly things, which are my responsibility and I have to make a decision. I make dozens of these type decisions everyday. I’m not afraid to be the deciding voice when one is required of me.

I’m talking about decisions, which are the responsibility of other people to make. These are the issues more difficult to discern. Things such as career choice decisions, the calling in life decisions, who to marry, how to respond to a marriage conflict, how to deal with difficult parents or children or friends, etc. – the unwritten answer type decisions. When there are multiple, seemingly good options available, I don’t try to solve their problem.

For those type issues, I probably have an opinion, but I almost never “have” the answer.

Instead…

I help people discover a paradigm through which to make the decision.

  • I help them see all sides of an issue.
  • I ask probing questions to spur bigger picture thoughts about an issue.
  • I share Scriptures, which may speak to both sides of a decision.
  • I serve as an outside voice and become an objective listener.
  • I connect them with people who may have experienced similar issues.
  • I often diagram the problem, as I hear it, so they can see an issue on paper. (This is one of my favorites.)
  • I help them learn to pray and listen for the voice of God.

And then I release them to make a decision.

Here is my reasoning…

If I solve the problem for them (or attempt to):

  • I’m just one opinion — and I am often wrong.
  • They’ll resent me if it proves to be a wrong decision, and trust me less the next time.
  • They may never take ownership of the issue.
  • They’ll likely do what they want anyway.
  • They won’t learn the valuable skills of listening to the voice of God.
  • They won’t learn from personal experience. (And, that’s the best way we learn.)
  • They will only rely on someone giving them the answer next time, failing to develop real wisdom, which comes through years of wrestling through the hard decisions of life.

My advice – for leaders, parents, pastors and friends:

Don’t always have an answer – or at least not THE answer.

Help people form paradigms through which to to solve problems and make wiser decisions.

Ideally we want people to develop healthy decision-making skills. We want them to gain dependence on God and the acquired ability to seek and discern wisdom. If we always make the decisions for them – if we always tell them exactly what they should do – they become too dependent on others and may never develop fully into who God has designed them to be.

Are you too quick to have an answer sometimes?

Discerning the Season of Your Life

By | Church, Family, Leadership, Life Plan | 4 Comments

As I write this, we are supposedly in spring on the calendar, but today is a cold day. There is actually snow in the forecast this week. A couple weeks ago we had several inches of snow on the ground.

Like the saying goes in my part of the world, “If you don’t like the weather now, stick around, it will change.”

Seasons. They come and they go. Sometimes quickly.

Life is like that.

Life happens in seasons.

Ecclesiastes says there’s a time for everything. Everything has a season.

Good seasons. Bad seasons.

Productive seasons. Growth seasons. And, seasons of decline.

Seasons of mourning. Grief. Seasons of laughter. Jubilee.

Seasons where there are more obstacles than opportunities. Often followed by seasons where we can’t seem to find time for all the opportunities presented to us.

There are seasons of stretching, where God seems to shape something new in our hearts. And, we often don’t know what that new is until we enter yet another season.

Seasons of passionate, growing love. And, tough seasons, where love is tested.

Seasons you’re more the leader and seasons where you’re more being led.

Seasons of blessings. And, seasons of wondering where are all those blessings others seem to be experiencing.

There are seasons of discovery and seasons where we get to invest what we have discovered in others – all while we keep discovering something new.

As parents, we have lots of seasons. The seasons where we never seem to have a break and you can’t get everything done and the kids are driving you crazy some days and you just need one good night’s rest. And, then seasons where the house seems empty and you long for a cluttered floor of toys again.

Seasons. Life happens in seasons.

What’s your current season?

It’s important to understand seasons occur and to know what season in which you are currently living.

When we don’t understand this concept of seasons – especially in the bad seasons – we can begin to believe seasons never change. We may stop trusting. Stop dreaming. Stop taking risks.

But, life comes in seasons. Seasons do change. Sometimes quickly. And, sometimes seasons overlap each other.

When we find ourselves in a good season, especially an extended good season, we can start to take the season for granted. We may even forget seasons change. Sometimes quickly. And, so we aren’t prepared.

Take a minute and reflect: What season of life you are currently experiencing?

Review your life by how the seasons have molded you. God never wastes a season. Ask God to place in your heart what He wants you to learn during this specific season of your life. Invite God to speak into your seasons.

Life happens in seasons.

10 Things I’ve Learned About Gossip – And Why I Hate It So Much

By | Christians, Church, Family, Leadership | 40 Comments

I hate gossip.

I realize hate is a strong word, but it’s the one I prefer here. I’ve seen so many negative results caused by gossip.

Gossip happens in families, in the workplace – wherever two or more are gathered – gossip will be among them. And, gossip is always destructive to building healthy relationships. I hate gossip in any setting, but especially in the church.

Relational gossip, especially among believers, shouldn’t even exist. We have to violate a lot of principles of God’s plan for the church and believers for it to be present at all.

Gossip is destructive and has no part in our lives or in the church. I’ve counseled with families caught in drama, such as after the loss of a loved one, and gossip is fueling their division. I have witnessed gossip destroy a healthy work environment. And, I have worked with so many churches where gossip – drama – is a leading cause of why the church isn’t healthy, isn’t growing, and isn’t accomplishing all God has for the church.

And, I’ve learned a few things about gossip.

Here are 10 things I’ve learned about gossip:

Not all rumors are true. In fact, most aren’t, especially not exactly as they are presented. When we repeat things we shouldn’t we seldom get all the facts straight. There is usually something we don’t understand.

People like to expand on what they think they know. People love to speculate and add their opinion to what they’ve heard. When they do the story gets further from the actual truth. People enjoy telling others “the good stuff”. With practice, some have even learned to make things seem “bigger” and “better” than reality. (And, I don’t mean better in the positive sense.)

There is almost always more to the story than what you know. Whenever multiple people are involved there will be multiple sides to the story. Even in stories involving only one person – if we aren’t hearing it from them – we only know what we know. We don’t know another person’s thoughts, history, or individual circumstances. And, it may or may not be what your mind stretches it to be.

Sometimes people don’t consider the ramifications of what they are doing. This is so potentially damaging. I have seen gossip destroy a person. I’ve even seen it run people from the church – and then watch as some of the people involved in creating and furthering the drama wonder later what happened. They honestly didn’t realize the damage their rumor-repeating was causing. It’s so easy to get trapped in drama without considering the damage being done to others. I’m convinced, at least the hopeful side of me is convinced, people don’t always intend the harm they cause with gossip.

Gossip is fueled by reaction. When someone tells you something you shouldn’t even know the way you respond often determines how many times it’s told again. If you gasp with wonder and interest the person sees they have something worth repeating and are motivated to seek the same reaction in others. If, however, you appear not as interested or intrigued the person may feel disarmed somewhat from sharing it more.

Some of the juiciest gossip is disguised as a prayer request. Be honest. You’ve done or seen this done many times. People do this to pastors all the time. “Pastor, please pray for the Jones family. I’ve heard their son is really causing them problems. Just wanted you to know so you could be praying.” And, actually, many times they just wanted me to know so they could do the telling.

People often stir drama for personal advantage. It could be to advance their own agenda. They may be on a power play. Sometimes people talk about others thinking it will make them feel better about their own life. And, sadly, I’ve known people who seem to get a “cheap thrill” out of creating drama. (I’ve never understood this one, but it’s true.)

The only reliable source is the direct source. Every. Single. Time. In fact, a good discipline would be to not repeat anything, which wasn’t from a direct source.

Thumper’s mom was right. If we can’t say something nice we really shouldn’t say anything at all. If we all lived by this principle there would be far less drama. And, far less pain caused as a result.

Gossip destroys. Gossip can bring down a person’s reputation quickly. Start a tale about someone and watch their character unravel in front of you. It happens to celebrities and politicians. I’ve seen in happen to pastors, individuals, and entire churches.

The point of this post is awareness. Most of my readers are believers. Some non-believers, however, will likely share my distaste of gossip in relationships. If you’ve made it this far in the post you and I can make a difference in stopping gossip from spreading by how we respond to it.

You may want to read my post 7 Ways to Stop Gossip Or, even better, read the Book of James in the New Testament. Or maybe Ephesians. (Specifically note 4:29).