Unconditional Love Can Change the World

This is a guest post by my good friend Ben Stroup. Ben is a writer and consultant. His latest project with former American Idol finalist Danny Gokey will be released by NavPress in October 2013. Ben and his wife, Brooke, have two boys, Carter and Caden, and live just outside Nashville, Tennessee.

Unconditional Love Can Change the World

Unconditional love is not necessarily the first topic that comes up for ministry leaders. There are much more important things to do. Events to plan. Bible studies to lead. Sermons to preach. Staff to lead. Yet for a topic many are quick to comment on from the platform, we rarely give much thought to its significance in the ultimate juggling act we call ministry leadership.

Love without condition may be the most impossible thing we can imagine. It doesn’t make sense. It doesn’t add up. And some might even question whether or not it even exists.

But we must believe that it does.

If it doesn’t exist, then we must also question our own motives and intentions. If nothing can be done out of self-less care for another human being, then everything is done for our own gain.

That means our life commitment to ministry leadership is nothing more than a hat tip to the people we claim to serve and an all-consuming act of self-directed worship of ourselves and our talents, skills, and abilities.

I choose to believe that love without condition exists because I can’t live in a world without it.

Unconditional love is one of the most powerful forces of change given to God’s people to carry out through God’s church. It is the fuel that will bring about not only revival but also total transformation.

Unconditional love heals the broken, empowers the timid, affirms the hesitant, and elevates those who have been overlooked, forgotten, and silenced. There is a power that comes to those who show and to those who receive unconditional love. Those who show this love are released from being consumed with themselves. Those who receive this love are released from limitations others have placed on them.

The challenge for those who lead God’s church is to find ways for Christ-followers to show and receive the kind of love that exists without condition. This is hard to do in a world full of broken promises and shattered dreams.

But this is the gift we have been given and the role we have been called to play.

Too often we excuse ourselves from opportunities to embody unconditional love because we are convinced we aren’t smart enough, mature enough, experienced enough, or rich enough to make a significant impact. That simply isn’t true. You have everything you need right now to show unconditional love toward someone else

Unconditional Love is not a challenge for the future but now. It is not something we can wait to do but is something we must initiate right now. You can be an agent of change.

Choosing to recklessly share unconditional love with others in the same way God has done for us will change you and the people you reach.

How can you help the people in your church discover love without condition?

Buy the book HERE. Read a sample chapter of the book HERE.

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE TRAILER from LifeWay Films on Vimeo.

Things That Happen Only With Time

hourglass

Some things take time…

Building trust

Making a true friend

Bonding with a child for life

Listening well

Creating a solid marriage

Recovering from a major loss

Ingraining personal discipline

Overcoming the power of an addiction

Becoming an expert

Developing a close walk with God

In our fast food, microwave world, some things can’t be rushed. Take time for the things that matter most.

What else takes time?

5 Alternatives to Gossip

gossip

This is a guest post by Matt Mitchell, a local church pastor and the author of Resisting Gossip: Winning the War of the Wagging Tongue a new book on a topic about which I care deeply.

***

So, you don’t want to gossip, right? If you’re like me, you don’t want to fall into a pattern of sinful gossip because you know how hurtful and harmful it can be and how much God hates it.

But it’s not always that easy to resist, is it? The Bible says, “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels; they go down to a man’s inmost parts” (Proverbs 18:8, 26:22). The choice morsels are those little bits of food that are hard to say “No” to and, once swallowed, have a lasting effect on our hearts.

One of the chief reasons why it’s hard to resist gossip is that we often can’t see any alternatives.

I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “But if we didn’t gossip, we wouldn’t have anything to talk about!” Of course, that is not true. But it often feels as if it is.

Everybody around us is doing it. Talking about others behind their back is fun and exciting. Gossip is juicy and attractive, and it just doesn’t feel like we have a lot of options.

In Resisting Gossip, I dedicate two whole chapters to planning alternative strategies for when we get into potential gossip situations.

Here are five good ones:

1. Say Nothing At All

As the saying goes, “If you can’t say anything good, don’t say anything at all.” Silence can be golden. Proverbs 17 says, “A man of knowledge uses words with restraint, and a man of understanding is even-tempered. Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (17:27-28).

Abraham Lincoln put it this way: “It is better to keep your mouth shut and let them think you are a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.” This rule of thumb goes not just for face-to-face talking but also for texting, messaging, emailing and every other kind of communication through which gossip could flow.

2. Commend the Commendable

Often we can do even better than silence. We can say something good. Offer encouragement, commendation, affirmation and approving words. If we are tempted to talk about someone, then we should talk about that person’s good points.

Don’t lie. Do not commend something that is not commendable, but in most situations, we can find something positive to share instead. The next time you are tempted to gossip about someone, talk about how good that individual is. That is what Jesus’ Golden Rule implies. Speak about people in the way you would want them to speak about you.

I get this phrase “commend the commendable” from Sam Crabtree’s book Practicing Affirmation. In one chapter entitled “100 Affirmation Ideas for Those Who Feel Stuck,” Crabtree offers a terrifically long list of options. We can do this!

3. Talk to People, Not About Them

When there is a problem between us and another person, the overwhelming temptation for us is to run to just about anybody other than the one with whom we have the conflict. The way forward in conflict, however, is not to talk about the other person but to talk to the person in love. Jesus says, “First go and be reconciled to your brother” (Matt. 5:24).

Did someone offend you at church? Talk to him about it. Did a co-worker hurt your feelings in a meeting? Bring it up with her. Did your parents’ recent decision mess up your plans? Take it up with them.

Amy Carmichael, a missionary to India in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, had this rule for managing conflicts at her mission station: “Never about, always to.” Conflicts are fanned into flame when we talk about people, but they can be resolved when we talk directly to the person with whom we have the problem.

4. Offer Words of Mercy

Ephesians 4:29 says that our words should build up others “according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Proverbs says, “The lips of the righteous nourish many” (10:21).

I have a friend who is that kind of person. Dan always has something good to say, even when there is not much good to talk about. He’s not afraid to confront someone in love when they are offensive, but he goes above and beyond the call of duty and encourages the people he’s confronting! He’s the first person I call when I have a problem, not just because he is wise but because he is nourishing. He uses merciful words, and people love to be around him. Dan is what I call “a party waiting to happen,” because he’s so full of grace.

You and I don’t have to say everything we think. In fact, we can be merciful because our heavenly Father is merciful (see Luke 6:36). Often we can do better than just staying quiet or even commending the commendable. We can go the extra mile and speak words of grace.

5. Practice Avoidance

Proverbs says, “A gossip betrays a confidence; so avoid a man who talks too much” (20:19). Don’t go near a gossiper. Walk on the other side of the street. Get away from that person. You and I might even need to skip out on some social situations if we know that all we will hear in them is sinful gossip. It might be a sacrifice, but it might also be worth it.

Sometimes we cannot avoid a person who gossips, simply because of our relationship to them. They are our mothers, sisters, brothers, co-workers, and fellow church members. In cases like these, we need to avoid not the person but the topic. We need to redirect conversations, if we can, to avoid the gossip in them. It’s not wrong to push a conversation in a new direction.

That may sound a bit sneaky, but it is really just shepherding a conversation and acting as a leader. The Bible says, “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down” (Prov. 26:20). Just removing the gossip can change the temperature in a room.

Of course, these five strategies are impossible for us to successfully follow without the power of the Holy Spirit. Let’s make it our prayer today that He would navigate us through the treacherous waters of everyday gossip with godly alternatives.

Is Work a Blessing or a Curse?

Full body isolated portrait of young business man

Is work a curse or a blessing?

I have heard that question all my life. And the various opinions associated with the answers. Even for those who have careers in ministry…is it a blessing or a curse?

During such discussions, some who answer “blessing” have even told me that ministry is not work, since it is a blessing. I completely agree that ministry is a blessing, but isn’t it also work? If I can’t call it work, then I’m in trouble with 2 Thessalonians 3:10 and other passages. (And I need a real job :) ) Even though it is a blessing to serve, ministry can be hard too. I don’t know of a pastor who wouldn’t agree that the work of ministry is difficult and messy; even as rewarding as it can be to help others.

Now back to the original question.

Is the work a blessing or a curse?

Many people answer that question as to whether or not they like their job, but the question isn’t whether or not you enjoy your work, but simply is work a curse or a blessing?

As I read Genesis 3, after the fall of man, work appears to be cursed. Consider this: “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground…” (Genesis 3:18-19) Sounds cursed.

At the same time,the ability to work and the income, production and opportunities it provides is a blessing. In a day when many are looking for work, I’m very thankful to have a job. There are those during this economy who have learned how much of a blessing any job is, just to be able to eat and provide for shelter.

God created work and I actually enjoy it. Ministry is my work…my job. God has called me to the vocational work of ministry and when I am doing the will of God I have an inner peace I can’t get any other way, so I love my work. Sounds like a blessing.

So, I’m thinking it could be a little of both.

I don’t think work is bad. Maybe the curse isn’t work, but on the enjoyment of the work we do. Somedays work is hard. Many days. Sometimes achieving the blessings from work come with sweat and labor. One of the reasons we often dread Mondays, for example, is because of the curse upon work, but, if we were honest, most of us are glad we have a job to go to on Mondays.

It shouldn’t surprise us that something God created as a blessing falls under a curse. Other areas of our life became more difficult at the fall of man, didn’t they? God created marriage. Marriage is wonderful. God created marriage before the fall, but would anyone who is married say that a great marriage never happens without a lot of hard “work”?

Here’s a final thought. If work is a blessing that falls under a curse, then it seems to me that even when our work is hard, the goal should still be to enjoy it. It’s a blessing.

We are blessed to work. Even if its subject to a curse.

What do you think?

Helping Complainers Complain Better

complaint

It surprises me how many well-meaning, even nice people don’t know how to offer a complaint. One that actually gets heard. The Bible says “do everything without arguing or complaining”, but I don’t believe that means we aren’t to ever voice our opinions. There are times when letting someone know what you don’t agree with or how you were mistreated is warranted. If I owned a business, and you were unhappy with your service, I would want to know. As a pastor, I realize you see things I don’t see. If there are issues of concern we want to know it. If you saw a glitch in our preschool security, please come tell me quickly. But, knowing how to offer a complaint (or an opinion), even when it is good information, can make sure your input isn’t quickly dismissed.

I wrote THIS POST recently on how to offer a criticism that actually gets heard.

Then I heard from a pastor who is undergoing change in his church. Needed change. But, along the way, he’s receiving a lot of complaints. Lots. And, they aren’t being delivered in very nice ways. They hurt. There are weeks he feels he is doing nothing right even though the church has grown, new families are being added, and overall the attitude of the church has improved. Complaints, mostly the way they are presented, are shadowing out the good he is doing in his own mind. (I don’t completely understand it but for some reason the filter of civility is often lost when speaking to pastors.) I tried to coach him through this, reminding him of truths he already knew…God is in charge…change is hard…some people are mean :). But, I’d love to address his church sometime. Especially the complainers…and help them see how they could offer their opinions (even if they are merited) in a way that is more beneficial for everyone. Right now it’s not working.

But, it’s not just pastors. I was standing in a checkout line recently. Apparently this customer who frequents this store nearly everyday (his words) was unhappy. He didn’t know how to complain. Not in a way that he will ever be taken seriously. And, in my observation, he may have had a valid issue, but it was quickly dismissed and he was labeled a jerk by store staff.

I watch it in restaurants when the waitress is chewed out by the customer. It’s sad. We may have a valid complaint, but we many times don’t know how to complain.

That’s what this post is about. Complaining. In case you need to complain. (Make sure you do first. Is it rooted in selfishness or rightness?) Honestly, I think we’ve become very selfish as a society and should work to complain less, but that’s another post I guess. For this post, let us assume people are still complaining. This post is: Helping complainers complain better.

So…as much as possible…

Use the sandwich approach.

Basically, in between two pieces of praise, insert the meat of the complaint. You might even put a little sweet jelly on it if needed. (I didn’t invent the process. I’m just expanding upon it.)

Praise – What do you like about the person? What are they doing right? Focus on the positive as much as possible. People listen better to people they think actually care for them as a person.

Complaint – As much as possible, make it constructive criticism rather than a complaint. Be honest. (Don’t embellish.) Be professional. Be kind. (You can offer disappointment and still make someone think you like them.) Be clear. Be quick. Be helpful. Use “I” statements more than “You” statements. Stick to the point.

Praise – Thank them for listening. Bonus points for encouraging them in some way. Complaints can be hard to hear. Soften the blow by ending with kindness.

Of course, doing this may require you to think before you speak. It may even mean writing out your complaint first and reading over it several times. At times, after this step, you may see your feelings have changed and you don’t wish to offer a complaint. (The “sleep on it” approach is never a bad system.)

I’m not saying your complaint will always be heard doing it this way and I’m certainly not saying it means you’ll get what you want. I am saying it gives you a better shot at being heard and you’ll offer your complaint without as much injury to the party receiving it.

This is a serious post, written in a lighthearted way. Honestly, it appears to be a problem in society these days. In the end, I believe it’s a heart issue. For all of us. We’ve lost the art of how to talk to people…how to offer a serious criticism when needed. In the process, we injure people. Thumper’s mom was right…(My mom too)…”If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

A gentle answer deflects anger, but harsh words make tempers flare.” Proverbs 15:1

What do you think?

The Cosby Show – Revisited

cosby

I am a Bill Cosby fan, so when I was asked if I’d allow a guest post in honor of his birthday this week, how could I refuse? (This is NOT a sponsored post.)

The Cosby Show – revisited

The 1980s was a much different time in American culture than the current era, a period in which a television show featuring a middle-class African-American family was a revelation and something never seen before. The Cosby Show was a landmark TV comedy even without considering race — but with race in mind, it was a groundbreaking one. As star Bill Cosby turns 76 this week, let’s take a look at how The Cosby Show helped make the entertainment world ready for Will Smith, Oprah Winfrey, and many more African-American TV stars whose shows didn’t revolve around the projects or even make a big deal of their families being a part of mainstream America.

Humble Beginnings

Inspired by his standup comedy show triumph Bill Cosby: Himself, the star and network NBC created a show focused on the family life of the Cosby-like Dr. Cliff Huxtable. In fact, many of the jokes from the first season of the show are taken word-for-word from Himself. It was natural for the new sitcom to feature an upper-middle-class African-American family, since that is what Cosby himself had and talked about during that comedy special. (In fact, Cosby’s TV family and real family both had four girls and one boy, the boy being the middle child.) NBC, however, didn’t have high hopes for the series, especially since it would go head-to-head on Thursday nights with the hugely popular Magnum, P.I. on CBS. They needn’t have worried, however; Cosby soon pulled ahead of Magnum in the ratings, prompting Bill Cosby himself to rub it in by wearing a Magnum ball cap on an episode of his own show.

Gentle Humor

Bill Cosby is known for being socially active and even somewhat harsh in his criticism of all races when it comes to racism and hypocrisy. Cliff Huxtable, on the other hand, was always an avuncular presence, wearing sweaters and college sweatshirts and dispensing funny fatherly advice to his kids. Also, Clair Huxtable kept her husband in line with sharp wisecracks as well as warm understanding. The show was sometimes criticized for not consistently taking on racial issues such as poverty and crime, but Cosby retorted that this was not demanded of shows featuring Caucasians although many people of that race also live in such conditions. To its fans, The Cosby Show was just a funny and heartwarming TV program.

A Trend-Setting Star

It’s fair to say that without The Cosby Show, which ran from 1984 to 1992, shows like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, starring clean rapper Will Smith, or That’s So Raven, starring Cosby regular Raven-Symone, would have had a harder time getting off the ground. But Cosby — and Cosby — showed that African American characters can be people first and then, if the time is right, symbols later.

As of his 76th birthday this week, Bill Cosby has created some of the most indelible entertainments of the late 20th Century, from I Spy in the 1960s, Fat Albert in the ’70s, and The Cosby Show in the ’80s and ’90s. And he hasn’t stopped making people laugh: he still does standup comedy on tour all throughout the year, and those shows consistently sell out from Las Vegas to New York to Miami. His books still sell briskly. He is still an icon of humor among all races, a breakthrough for those entertainers who followed.

Author Bio: Spencer Blohm is a television and movie blogger for DirectTV who covers everything from previews and new releases to classic films and shows from the ‘70s and ‘80s. He’s been a huge Cosby fan since he was a child. He lives and works in Chicago.

Happy Birthday Bill!

What’s your favorite work of Bill Cosby?

7 Things Forgiveness IS NOT…

(I’m on vacation this coming week, and so for the next couple weeks I’m posting again some of my most read posts, but also ones I think are actually helpful. These are my “favorite top posts”. Some posts had more hits, but they simply do well in the search engines. I’m actually proud of these. :) None of these were posted this year. All are older than that. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, and Google Plus to get them circulated. I won’t be doing much of that while I’m gone.)

We get confused about what forgiveness is and what it isn’t. Maybe we don’t really know sometimes.

Forgiveness is not an option for the believer. We are to forgive others as we have been forgiven. For most of us (all of us if we will admit it), that’s a whole lot of forgiveness. Understanding forgiveness doesn’t make it easier to forgive, but it does make it more meaningful…perhaps even tolerable…but I believe understanding the process could make us more likely to offer the forgiveness we are commanded to give.

With that in mind, in two posts, I want to share what forgiveness is and what it isn’t.

Here are 7 things forgiveness IS NOT:

Forgetting - When you forgive someone your memory isn’t suddenly wiped clean of the offense. I know God could do that, but it seems that would be the easy way. I suspect God wants forgiveness to be more intentional than that.

Regaining automatic trust - You don’t immediately trust the person who injured you when you forgive them. That wouldn’t even be logical. Trust is earned, and they must earn trust again.

Removal of consequences – Even though you forgive someone, they may still have consequences to face because of their actions.

Ignoring the offense – You don’t have to pretend nothing happened when you forgive. The reality is an offense was made. Acting like it never occurred only builds resentment and anger.

Instant emotional healing – Emotions heal with time. Some pain runs deep and takes longer to heal.

Restoring the same relationship – The relationship may be closer than before or not, but most likely it will never be the same.

A leverage of powerGranting forgiveness does not give a person power over the person being forgiven. That would violate the entire principle and purpose of forgiveness.

Here is the companion post….7 Things that Forgiveness Is… Just a note before you get there: This post may have seemed easy, even freeing, but the next one may be more difficult.

What would you add to my list of things forgiveness is NOT?

Ways to Stop Gossip (Repost)

(I’m on vacation this coming week, and so for the next couple weeks I’m posting again some of my most read posts, but also ones I think are actually helpful. These are my “favorite top posts”. Some posts had more hits, but they simply do well in the search engines. I’m actually proud of these. :) None of these were posted this year. All are older than that. Thanks for reading my blog. Feel free to share these on Twitter, and Google Plus to get them circulated. I won’t be doing much of that while I’m gone.)

In my job, I hear far more junk than I care to hear. The larger our church gets, the more mess we encounter among the people to whom we minister. We have designed our church to reach hurting people, so we are simply reaching our target audience, but some days it is more difficult than others to hear such sad stories.

One part of the drama of messiness that always frustrates me is how gossip begins about other people’s problems. As if dealing with the consequences of sin is not enough, many times some of the hardest repercussion is the gossip that occurs about the people involved and the situation that occurred. I have been the victim of unfair gossip and I know the pain it can cause. I have never found gossip to be helpful to the people involved or to the Kingdom of God. I have literally become a hater of gossip because I have seen it destroy so many people! Gossip hurts innocent people who are caught in the middle, it exaggerates the situation, and it keeps the one who did wrong loaded with guilt and frustration, and from experiencing the fullness of God’s grace. (Consider these passages: Proverbs 11:13, Proverbs 16:28, Proverbs 20:19, Proverbs 26:20, Romans 1:29, 2 Corinthians 12:20, 1 Timothy 5:13 … the Bible talks a great deal about this…)

With that in mind, I’m listing 7 suggestions for how to stop, or at least slow, the spread of gossip. Will you consider each and take them personal? If the shoe fits will you wear it. Together, perhaps we can help stop the deadly spread of this harmful virus!

Here are 7 ways to stop gossip:

  • Don’t repeat something you don’t know is true firsthand…secondhand knowledge is not enough to justify repeating. You will get something wrong and it will hurt others.
  • Don’t repeat unless its helpful to do so and you have a vested interest in the situation, the people involved, and permission to share…doing so in the name of a prayer request is not a good excuse…
  • Don’t “confess” other people’s sins. Even if the wrong included you and you feel the need to confess, share your story, but not someone else’s.
  • If you must tell, and have passed the test on the first three suggestions, tell only what happened and not your commentary or “I think this is probably what happened” or why you think it happened…
  • Choose to pray for others every time you are tempted to tell their story…instead of telling their story…
  • When someone tells you something you don’t need to know, don’t allow curiosity to be your guide…follow your heart. Stop the person and tell them you don’t want to know! Remember, if they will spread gossip about others they will spread it about you!
  • Keep the circle of confession limited to the people involved or to no more than needed for accountability purposes. The wider the circle and the more the story is repeated the more likely things will turn into gossip.

If my tone seems intent it’s because I am. I have little patience for gossips. My desire is to see people who live in holy and healthy community together. Gossip is a betrayer of this becoming reality.

Have you seen people injured by the spread of gossip? Have you been a victim?

Please chime into the discussion to help make my case here!! What else would you add?

12 Random Pieces of Life I Love

Grandmother with grandson having fun at home - whispering secret

Sometimes it’s the little things.

A lazy Sunday afternoon nap after a great morning at church.

Picking raspberries in Michigan and “testing” them along the way.

Inside jokes with friends.

A song that brings back a nearly forgotten memory.

Sitting on a porch swing listening to a gentle rain.

Laughing as a puppy plays.

Discovering a “hidden gem” of a restaurant when not even looking.

Wrestling with a two year old boy.

Sharing a smile with someone you love.

Waking up at Grandma’s to the smell of fresh coffee and breakfast.

A small child whispering in your ear.

Saturday mornings with no agenda.

That’s 12 of mine. Add one, two or twelve of yours.

Take time today to reflect on the moments that make memories.

And don’t forget…

Sometimes it’s the little things.