7 Suggestions for Raising Boys Who Welcome Your Input as Adults

boy and father

People ask me all the time for advice on raising girls, and honestly, I’ve got some, but they all involve a shotgun and long ankle-length dresses, so you probably don’t want that. Just kidding. I always wanted a daughter, but God gave me boys.

And, I think He knew what He was doing. Imagine that!

I’ve learned a few things about ministering to men — and understanding myself more — by raising boys. One thing I’ve learned is that boys are desperate for wisdom. They crave it. They want someone to speak into their life — save them from making the wrong decision.

But, equally true, they are often either too timid to ask for it or they just never know to do so.

(Someone told me guys seldom ask for directions either, but I’m having a hard time believing that one. :) )

I’m close to my two adult boys. We’ve walked through a lot of life together — mine and theirs. They are on their own, have good careers, and live healthy, productive lives. They love other people with grace. Best of all, they both love and pursue Jesus actively. I couldn’t be more proud as a dad.

Gratefully, and the subject of this post, they still call me for the major decisions they make in life.

I didn’t have a great relationship with my dad when I was their age. I wanted the type relationship with my sons where they would always feel welcome and ready to learn from my experience. I’m blessed to say both my boys call me often, sometimes daily in certain seasons of their life. They want my help making life decisions. I can only credit God’s grace with that blessing.

Even still, I’ve observed there is something in them that wants to appear not to need the help at times. Something in a guy resists the need for help — even when we desperately need the help.

How do you get your sons to want to come to you for wisdom, long after they leave home?

I get asked that a lot. I have a few thoughts.

Here are 7 suggestions for raising boys:

Do activities they want to do – I spent lots of time with my boys, but I did that by assuming their interests. If it was baseball or wrestling, I loved and lived what they loved. I know dads who try to get their boys to love fishing or golf because they love fishing or golf. I simply chose my interests around theirs.

Stay close – Boys grow to become men. That sounds simple, but it’s huge to remember. They want to be independent. Some days they don’t want you around as much as others. (That may sound appealing for a moment when they are colicky as infants, but believe me you will miss them.) I tried to stay close enough that I was there when they were ready for me. Ephesians 6 says not to exasperate the children. I simply tried not to get in the way of their growth pattern, but to always be available when needed. I found I was “needed” more often that way. And, the funny thing, it almost seemed like they tested whether I was going to be there when they called.

Be fully present – Like all men I always had plenty I could be doing. I tried to let the boy’s time be the boy’s time. Children know when you’re not really being attentive. There were times my boys told me I needed to put my phone down. I listened. I wanted them to feel I was listening to what mattered to them. If my boys wanted to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball, I did it, no matter how tired I was from a long day. And, it’s amazing how much more a boy will engage in conversation when a ball is involved.

Offer wisdom more than solutions – This is huge. I explained this more in THIS POST, but I tried to help my boys form a paradigm for finding an answer, rather than always giving them the answer. Honestly, this is harder. It’s easier just to do something sometimes. Give the answer and move on. Solve the problem. But they don’t grow that way. And, they learn to use you as a crutch, rather than develop into independent young men. Boys want to find their own way. They like solving the mystery, creating a new path, and discovering the answers on their own. I wanted them to always have access to me for the wisdom of experience, but to develop the ability to make wise decisions apart from me.

Love their friends – My boys knew their friends were always welcome in our house. They knew I’d fix them lots of pancakes on Saturday morning. They knew we stocked our fridge with every drink their friends might like, just in case our house was the hangout house for the night. They knew the doors was always wide open for anyone they brought through them. Honestly, we didn’t always approve of their choices in friends, but we talked them through it and tried to steer them towards better friends. But, we never turned away their friends. This did two things. It protected their hearts towards us. And, it helped them learn principles of grace. Over time we discovered that if we were building wisdom into their lives in other areas they would discern for themselves the wisest choice in friends.

Give solid boundaries – We were a house of grace, but boys need structure. Let me repeat that — before someone gets hurt — boys NEED structure. They need someone to tell them when they’ve gone too far in how they talk to their mom. They need someone who will counsel them when they are falling behind in school — and hold them accountable to do better. They need to know there is someone who will pull them aside and discipline them when they do wrong — and be consistent in that discipline.

Let them explore – Boys are risk-takers. Most likely we have steered it out of them if it’s not there. It’s innate. They use potty language and wrestle and bounce balls that break lamps and pee places you never thought someone would pee. They’ll jump off something and you’ll likely end up in the emergency room a time or two. But, that’s part of being a boy. And, discovering. And, growing courage and faith and the ability to be a man. Of course, there’s a line. And, I wasn’t great at finding that line. You can’t let them be too stupid (Although one of my favorite Proverbs says, “Surely I’m too stupid to be a man.”) But, you should let them be boys. That includes exploring. And, that’s a word to moms and dads.

There are probably other suggestions I could share, but if you are raising boys, you probably need to go break up a fight or stop them from jumping off something. We can talk more later. :)

What suggestions do you have for raising boys?

Lessons Learned from Walking on Hot Coals

Walk On Fire

People say Christians are crazy, but I would like to submit another group of people for consideration: fire walkers.

I’d recently gone on a 37,000-mile prayer pilgrimage around the world, a modern re-working of the ancient tradition. I experienced a world of prayer traditions across the Judeo-Christian faith family, including some of the “strange cousins” and “weird uncles.”

Thus, firewalking.

Some people say firewalking is dangerous, and those people are correct.

It had been a long day – I’d been dancing and yelling and sweating for over 12 hours, without a meal stop or bathroom break at any point in the process. This was how things rolled at The Guru’s convention – part sales pitch, part rave, part rock concert, part tent revival. I was there as an observer, and to some extent, as a participant.

While I didn’t “worship” with my hands raised (to the Titanic and Chariot’s of Fire theme songs), I had committed to taking part in the evening’s crescendo: a brisk walk across a 12-foot bed of 2000-degree roasting hot coals.

The Guru had taught us a very simple neurolinguistic programming technique. We were instructed to “make a move,” some sort of repetitive physical action that would pump our bodies full of testosterone. (I went with a manly combination—a Hulk-style chest flex paired with a front double bicep curl.) We were told to reach the front of the line, get in the zone, “make our move,” and then calmly walk across the coals while focusing on the phrase “cool moss.”

I got to the front of the line and stared down at the glowing embers, two thousand degrees of heat ready to bake my bones. I started to get into the zone. “It’s your turn!” a volunteer yelled. “Head up and go!” He shoved me onto the coals.

I wasn’t in the zone.

I hadn’t made my move.

I hadn’t even prayed.

My first step—my right foot caught a hot coal right between my big toe and the ball of my foot. It was hot. The ball of my left foot landed on an equally fiery chunk of flaming wood. There was no “cool moss” for me.

I stormed across the pit like a drummer in a marching band, moving so quickly that two volunteers had to grab me at the end and spray cold water on my feet. And then it was over. I hadn’t died or burned my feet off.

I exhaled with relief. And I realized that no prayer is necessary to walk across hot coals. There is nothing spiritual about it at all, in fact.

A lot of people, myself included, are guilty of treating God like that self-help guru. Prayer is our mantra, a way to bolster our confidence and psych ourselves up for whatever challenges lie ahead.

To some extent it works. But prayer isn’t a mind game; it’s not a pseudoscientific technique for achieving success in life. It’s a deeply intimate form of communication with the Lover of our souls.

Prayer isn’t about self-improvement.

We don’t “gain confidence”; we enter God’s. We don’t “become a better person”; God conforms us to the image of His Son. We don’t “attain perfection”; we’re covered by the spotless Lamb.

Prayer can get us through the fiery seasons of life, but it’s not the prayer that gets us through — it’s the God who’s willing to carry us across that bed of burning hot coals.

This is a guest post by Jared Brock. Jared is the co-founder of Hope for the Sold, an abolitionist charity that fights human trafficking one word at a time. His is the author of A Year of Living Prayerfully, and he is happily married to his best friend, Michelle. Jared’s writing has appeared in Huffington Post, Converge, Esquire, and Relevant Magazine, and he writes regularly at JaredBrock.com.

Encouragement to Take a Leap of Faith and Continue the Journey

leaping

If you are afraid to attack, go down to the camp with your servant Purah and listen to what they are saying. Afterward, you will be encouraged to attack the camp. Judges 7:10-11 NIV

God looked into Gideon’s heart and saw that he needed some encouragement for the task ahead.

Gideon had already agreed to obey God. He had kept the three hundred men God had ordained for battle and sent the rest of the men home.

Still, God must have seen fear in Gideon’s heart, so God allowed Gideon to hear something, which gave him encouragement.

I deal with a lot of people on the brink of greatness for God. They are often pastors and church planters, missionaries, ministers or believers who know God is calling them to something, but one thing stands in the way — FEAR. I understand. Been there. Have several t-shirts.

Here’s a word of encouragement for you.

If uncertainty is causing you to fear your next move or to act upon what you believe God is calling you to do — learn a lesson from Gideon’s story.

Understand that God knows your strengths and your weaknesses. He knows where you most need encouragement. God ultimately wants you to trust Him completely, without having to depend on anything or anyone else, but He also knows you are still a work in progress. You’re still growing your faith. He will be patient. He is fully prepared to see you through your doubts to His glory. However long that takes.

Keep in mind that God’s ultimate goal is the complete control of your heart. Therefore, God often sends people your way to encourage you in your walk. He wants you to fully and completely trust in Him, so He will kindly allow you at times to see the good you are doing in ministry. God wants your complete obedience, so He occasionally allows you the privilege of seeing the direction He is taking you.

Many times, however, you and I are left to walk with God simply by faith.

I hope God sends you the encouragement you need today to allow you to move forward in obedience to Him, but if He allows you to wrestle with your own doubts today, may I be a voice of encouragement to tell you God is trustworthy? He proves faithful. Every time.

Step big into the awesomeness found in a life that is fully obedient to God’s will!

I wonder if Gideon could have read his story in reverse if he would have lived it all over again. Somehow I suspect He would!

The Two Shall Become One Flesh

himher

I’m not good with art, but if you were sitting in my office, I would attempt to draw this diagram on my dry erase board. I hope you can get past the crude drawing to get to the intended meaning, because it really is important to understand in shaping a marriage.

Taken from Ephesians 5:21-33, I believe this is the model of a healthy marriage that God is attempting to build. It is by design that two unique and imperfect people are called to become one.

To accomplish that task, two things must occur.

First, as indicated with the upper left and right triangles, each spouse must get rid of the “baggage” he or she brings into the marriage. While most of us come with lots of baggage, in simple terms, this is anything that will not help the couple become one. If for example, one spouse is selfish, while that may be allowed in some relationships, it will not work in making one flesh.  Discovering what parts of each spouse will not work in building one flesh becomes one goal in building a strong marriage. This could even be natural bents or personalities, but they must be considered as to whether they make the marriage stronger or weaker.

The middle two triangles, with the words “One Flesh”, illustrate the process of taking the best of each spouse, that part that helps completes the other spouse, and using it to build God’s design for the marriage.

As an example, my wife is the compassionate one in our relationship. (You could have guessed that most likely.) In our life together, she helps me be more compassionate.

At the same time, Cheryl would enable others to take advantage of her if I were not around. Many times, I provide the strength that makes us strong as a couple and protects our family life.

So what do you do with this information?

 
Well, first working together (if you can’t do this together in love you have other issues to work through first), begin to make lists of those things that could keep it from becoming one flesh (your baggage). Over the course of time (don’t rush this process), each spouse begins to work on his or her baggage.

Second, make an opposite list of those qualities in each spouse that add to the strength of the marriage bond. Obviously, this is a more pleasant list to put together, but it’s most helpful if each spouse share the strengths of the other spouse. Once this list is in place, over time, begin to yield the marriage to the each of these strengths.

The seemingly impossible goal of becoming one flesh is not only challenging, but it is a lifetime process. Learning to communicate strengths and weaknesses each spouse brings to the marriage can help build the marriage God intended for you to have.

What strengths or weaknesses do you and/or your spouse bring to the marriage?

12 Tips to Run Your First Long-Distance Race

Runner feet running on road closeup on shoe. woman fitness sunri

I am a runner.

Running is some of the best thinking and down time I have in my life. It’s the one time where I’m the most removed from all the pressures of the world and able to clear my mind and concentrate.

As a leader, I’ve found it to be a huge part in my leadership development. I think when I run.

Just to give you a point of reference — a good week for me would be to run about 30-40 miles total. My favorite distance is about 5 to 7 miles. I run at a moderate pace — somewhere between 9 and 9:30 minute miles. I have completed 1 full marathon and more half marathons than I can count. My goal is to do one more full. I’ve intended to the last few years and schedules haven’t allowed it, but hopefully I can still plan in this direction. I don’t run a lot in really cold weather, but my goal is to remain fairly trained for a half. (I’m told if I can run 8 miles comfortably I can run a half. And, I’ve found that to be true.)

What some who know I run don’t know is that I was a previous anti-runner. I ran years ago, but then in my 30’s I had even made the statement, “I hate running. I’m a good walker.”

I continue to encounter people who are where I was. They think they are “too old” or past the running days. So many times I hear — “You wouldn’t catch me running unless I was being chased.” We”ve got to get you guys some new lines. :)

But, most of the time those people are just like me. They never really got into the habit of running. And, that’s what it is. You don’t start by running a half. It is a gradual build before you are inspired to enter to run a longer race. You might set a goal to run a 5K — or even a 1 mile fun run. No shame. Start where you can.

So here are some suggestions — just to consider. I can’t oversell the benefits to me of a discipline of running. I miss it during the harsh winter. Maybe it’s something you should consider.

Keep in mind these are an amateur’s perspective. You should obviously check with your doctor and the experts. And, believe me, there are lot of experts.

Here are 12 tips to prepare to run a race:

Training makes all the difference. I did finish my marathon, but I wasn’t adequately prepared. I won’t do another one until I’m sure my schedule will allow me to complete all of it. Don’t race if you aren’t prepared. Period. It’s not good for your body or your mindset towards running.

As a side note, running for me is down time, so I run alone. You may need to run with a group. Find a friend or a group and encourage them to join you if you need this support.

Follow a training schedule that matches your schedule. The Internet is full of online schedules. Research until you find the right one for you. I have consistently used Hal Higdon’s and they fit well with my weekly schedule.

If you have to skip training one day, don’t skip the long runs. You need the long day every week. These days are vital to stretching you for the final big day. You’d be better to push your schedule back, in my opinion, than to miss this day. If you have to alter the long run to another day — do that — but don’t skip it.

You may gain weight initially while training. This was surprising to me. And, frankly disappointing at first. You will have an appetite like never before. If you aren’t careful, you will justify eating much more because you are running so much. If your goal is to lose weight, you’ll need to have a plan for what you eat too.(The good news is you WILL get to eat more!)

Keep running. In the beginning, before you are truly committed, run even if you don’t feel like it. That’s hard, but you have to do it. Even if you don’t run as far as the schedule calls for that day — just run. You must push through the desire to quit. The joy of running will come. This is one of those “you just have to experience it to believe it” things. Keep at it until it sticks.

Remember it’s a “marathon not a sprint”. Even if it’s for a shorter run, don’t frustrate at where you are today. You’re not going for speed at this point. Pace yourself. A lot of times you’ll feel like you can run faster, but you can’t just yet. Don’t be afraid to start slow and build. You’re going for distance and to build the discipline of running. Keep pushing forward and you’ll increase over time. Celebrate each step of progress.

Shoes matter. I’m tight with money when it comes to spending on me, but I have discovered that having the right shoes and replacing them often is a key to lessen injuries. This is a place where I learned the hard way to invest. Even best is a good run shop where they can analyze your running pattern and help you find the right shoe.

Learn to stretch. I’ll get some push back on this one, because there are so many opinions. But, for me, I stretch the first mile of a long run. I may do a few stretches, but I am ready to get started. I just start slower until I’m ready to run my normal speed. Many say the best stretching is after you run. And, I’m not the best at this either, but I keep working at it.

The rest periods in your schedule are important. Once you start to enjoy running — and that will come — you will be tempted to run even when the schedule gives you an off day. Don’t do it! Your body needs the rest to prepare for the longer runs. Again, trust me on this. These are good days to do something different. I like to use weights or ride my bicycle on these days.

Run a shorter race first. >If you are training for a full marathon, try to do a half-marathon first. If a half is your goal, try a 5K. It will help if you’ve experienced the adrenaline of a race.

Don’t let your head play tricks with you. Running for long periods of time is as much a mental exercise as a physical one. Fight through the mind games. Listen to your body — of course. Check with a doctor — all those things. But, don’t let your mind be your enemy.

Prepare to celebrate. Once you cross the finish line, no one can take that feeling away from you!

You can do this! Obviously some reading this post are not able to run a longer race — or run at all. But, some of you have just been making excuses. I’m encouraging you to go for it! Run. Run for life!

9 Things You May Not Know About Introverts

Thoughtful businessman with glasses

I’ve been an introvert all of my life. I was born that way — or at least I’ve been that way as far as my memory carries me. As a child, I remember at social gatherings people asking me if there was something wrong with me. Because to some people it’s “wrong” to not be talkative. I had to force myself to engage others all through high school. And, I wasn’t a recluse. I was elected student body president of my high school.

And, if you’re really an introvert. I just said some things you understand.

The major problem with introversion — which, by the way, is not a disease — and not a problem — is the misunderstanding of it. People act like it’s a personality flaw. But, it’s nothing like that. Introversion is a preference in how we respond to life. Nothing more. It’s a wiring. But, there’s no flaw in the wiring.

So, I’ve attempted to change the misunderstanding to understanding. Helping you understand introverts.

That’s the point of this post.

Here are 9 things you may not know about introverts:

We can be very social. You should see me on Sunday. We can even be the life of the party if we choose to be.

We have humor. We may even be very funny. It might be a dry wit. You may have to “wait for it” — and pay careful attention. We usually have time to think about it before we project our humor on the world. And, when we do be prepared to laugh. Laugh hard.

We love people. Seriously. We do. Deeply. Just because you may talk more than us doesn’t mean we don’t love as much as you do. Introverts are often very loyal to the ones we love. Just like extroverts may be.

We are unique. We are unique from other introverts. We aren’t all alike. And, we are somewhat offended with a stereotype. (Just as any other stereotyped person is.) Introverts have a realm of introversion. Some appear more extroverted than others. Some more introverted.

We aren’t afraid of people. We usually don’t need you to speak on our behalf to remove our fears. Fear is not the reason we are introverted. It’s a personality.

We don’t need help formulating thoughts. I realize it seems at times that we don’t know what to say — but usually it’s because we are processing, taking our time, or simply don’t want to interrupt everyone else who seems to be talking incessantly. Believe me — thinking is not a problem for most introverts. We do it quite well.

We don’t always want to be left alone. Yes, we may like our time alone – or at least our quiet time — but we don’t have to be alone. Personally, I don’t enjoy life as much when Cheryl isn’t around. Even if we aren’t talking non-stop, I like her in my company.

We can have fun. Some extroverts think we can’t. Because to them more fun is more conversation. But, we can have fun. Lots of it. And, there doesn’t have to be constant noise to do that. And, sometimes there does. And, my definition of fun may not be yours. And, that’s okay. But, let’s hang sometime and I’ll show you how it’s done my way!

We aren’t weird. Well, maybe. But, it’s not because we are introverts. Something tells me at least one of my readers of this post will be weird. (I’ve got some weird tendencies — I guess we all do.) You may or my not be introverted.

So,there are a few things you may not know about introverts. Anything else you could share?

7 Suggestions for the First 7 Years of Marriage

Portrait Of Loving African American Couple In Countryside

I’ve written previously about the first seven years of marriage. We don’t know why necessarily — I have some theories — but the years between 6 and 8 of marriage are often the most difficult. It seems so many marriages fail in the 7th year.

It makes sense then that protecting the marriage during those years is critical. And, it doesn’t take 7 years. I have lost count of the couples who are struggling — and ready to call it quits — just a few years into the marriage.

The way a marriage starts helps to protect the long-term health of the marriage. I believe the attention we place on new marriages in our churches is critically important.

Based on my experience, I have some specific advice for new marriages. Our first 7 years of marriage are long past, but if we had it to do over, there are some things I’d make sure we did as a couple to get a good, solid start.

Here are 7 things we would do in our first 7 years of marriage:

Recruit a mentoring couple. We would find a couple further along in years of experience and who seem to have a marriage like we wanted and ask to spend time with them. We tend to become like the people we hang around most. All couples could use mentors who can talk them through the rough patches that all marriages face.

Invest financially in the marriage. Keep dating. It could be a sack lunch at the park or a 5-Star steak dinner or a weekend in Paris depending on your income level, but we would just do fun stuff. Stay active. Boredom is one of the leading causes of marriage failure.

Protect your budget. The last one is important, but so is this one. You’ll need to balance the two. Debt causes huge problems in a marriage. And, it’s easier to avoid as you build than after you’ve accumulated it. You don’t have to have everything now. (Let me say that again.) You don’t have to have everything now. It’s not the key to a happy marriage. But, eliminating the major distractions is a key to a strong marriage. And, money problems are a leading cause of marriage trouble. We would get an agreed upon budget (and that’s key), and discipline ourself to live it.

Set a schedule. Life has a way of sucking time from us. It becomes very difficult for busy couples, especially once children come along, to find time to be together. And, yet it’s critical. Don’t neglect your time together. We would set a routine of intentional weekly time for just the two of us.

Limit outside interruptions. In-laws. Friends. Work. They can all get in the way. Sure, they love you. They want their time with you. But, let’s be honest — some of them also want to control your life. Don’t believe that other people will work to protect your marriage as much as you will. They won’t. The two of you are creating one unit. If we were starting over we would guard our marriage from any undue pressure.

Be active in church. Sounds selfish. I admit that. But, it’s also being strategic. You need community and especially a healthy community that can be there for you when things go wrong. And, things will go wrong. You’ll need a community of faith around you. And, you won’t know how much you need them until you need them. We would — and we did — commit to a strong church community.

Talk. Lots. Many times couples become so comfortable with one another that they fail to communicate at deeper levels. This becomes very common in the first years of a marriage. Routines and familiarity set in and the couple assumes they already know all there is to know about each other. I have talked to so many couples who just don’t communicate anymore. Or one spouse thinks they do and the other spouse thinks they don’t. They don’t share the details of each other’s day and life — their deeper, unspoken thoughts. The better you learn to communicate — the stronger the marriage will be. The best way to improve communication is with practice. We would practice this one a lot.

Of course, I’m pretty sure it’s not too late on any of these — even if you’re past the first seven years.

Those are just a few suggestions. Do you have more?

6 Ways to Release Anger & Bitterness

Angry child with crossed arm

You’re going to hurt people and people are going to hurt you. As John Ortberg says living with people is like “dancing with porcupines.” So what will you do when you get hurt?

MY STUCK STORY

As soon as I read the email from my pastor, my heart skipped a beat: “Mark, come to my office first thing this morning.”
You know that feeling when you sense something isn’t right? I told my wife about the odd email, then I drove to the church.

As I walked into my mentor’s large office, he said, “Hey man, why don’t you close the door?” My heart was pounding. I shut the door and sat in the green wingback chair facing his desk. This man whom I’d worked alongside for twelve years began reading a prepared letter. Apparently, there would be no small talk. I didn’t know it, but he was about to make a shocking announcement and instantly end our friendship.

The man reading this prepared letter was not just my pastor; he was one of my best friends. We genuinely loved each other. That’s what made his announcement so gut wrenching.

Due to a philosophical difference, he announced that I needed to have my office cleaned out by Monday morning.

When he finished reading, he looked up and calmly asked, “Do you have any questions?” We sat without speaking, a moment of silence for the death of our friendship. Then I said the only words that seemed appropriate, “I hate that it’s ending this way.” He agreed.

I stood up and slowly walked out of his office. I already felt something hurting deep inside of me. My mind raced in a thousand different directions simultaneously.
Now what?

FAST-FORWARD TWO YEARS

“Mark, you keep looking back. You need to forgive and start moving forward.” My coach had heard my two-year-old sob story before. On this day, as we sat across from each other at Smokejack BBQ in Alpharetta, GA, I chided myself for yet again rehashing what should have been ancient history.
I took a deep breath and nodded my head in agreement, like you do when someone says something completely true but completely unhelpful. “Forgive and move forward?” I thought. “Sure. No problem. While I’m at it I’ll solve world hunger and negotiate world peace. I want to move forward but I don’t know how. That’s the problem. I’m stuck! What specifically can I do?” I thought. I was exhausted. Something had to change.

WHAT’S YOUR STUCK STORY?

Maybe you’ve experienced something much more painful. Your ex-spouse, a parent, a co-worker, or a close friend hurt you.

Your hurt may include a divorce, bankruptcy, a job loss, betrayal, abuse, or broken trust. The day you’re hurt is a bad day, but the unrelenting weight of a heavy grudge is even worse, isn’t it? When you want to forgive but don’t know how, you feel stuck.

In a nationwide Gallup poll, 94 percent of people said it was important to forgive, but 85 percent said they would need outside help in order to forgive. Apparently, many of us are stuck.

As a pastor who couldn’t forgive, I spent three searching for real steps to take toward forgiving someone who has hurt you deeply.

Here are 6 steps that helped me completely forgive and move forward:

Stop telling your story as a victim
Forgiveness isn’t found in speaking but in surrendering. (Isa. 53:7)

Assess your Injury
“General forgiveness does not heal specific hurts. It’s important to pinpoint what was taken from you.” -Andy Stanley

Value your offender
You do not condone what they did, but you recognize that they are more than what they did. (Luke 23:34)

Intercede for your offender
“The more I pray for an idiot the less idiotic they become.” –Daniel Hahn (Matt. 5:44)

Own your part
As long as you remain 100% focused on their guilt, you will remain 100% stuck.

Release their debt
“Getting over a painful experience is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.” -C.S. Lewis

What have you found is helpful in releasing anger and bitterness?

This is a guest post by Mark Riggins. Mark is the Community Life Pastor at ENCOUNTER | Bible Fellowship Church in Ventura, CA. His new book STUCK When You Want to Forgive but Don’t Know How is available now on Amazon. Sign-up HERE for a FREE 30-Day Online Forgiveness Devotional. You can follow Mark on his blog: www.markriggins.org.

4 Characteristics of a True Friendship

young people

True friendship is rare.

I have had many friends in my life, but finding one that stands the tests of time — that’s hard.

“Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)

“For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!” (Ecclesiastes 4:10)

“A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity.” (Proverbs 17:17)

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (Proverbs 18:24)

Those kind of friends — are hard to find.

If you have ever gotten in a bind, had a major failure, or somehow lost your way, then you realized just how rare true friendship really is in our lives. The true friends show up at your doorstep ready to help.

To me, the difference in a true friend and one who calls themselves a friend, but is really an acquaintance is fairly easily identified.

Here are 4 characteristics of true friendship:

Unconditional love - A true friend loves at all times. Regardless of what you do, what happens, or where life takes you, a true friend loves at all times. On your worst day — when you aren’t even fun to be around — a true friend still takes you to lunch. (And likely pays.)

Unwavering support – True friends are in it for the long haul. Even when you’ve fallen — or agree with you completely — a true friend is in your corner. When you call — even when you’re in trouble — they come. True friendships may only be for a season. I have many of those. But, if we run into each other again we pick up where we left off. Trust is already established. The relationship is just as strong. True friendships are consistent.

Willingness to challenge – Love and support is not ignoring the words you need to here. A true friendship makes you better. The Bible says “iron sharpens iron”. True friends will correct you if needed. Proverbs 27:5 says, “Better an open rebuke than hidden love.” Friends won’t let you injure yourself or others if they can intervene. They won’t remain silent with what you need to hear — and it will be shared in the deepest of love.

Full of grace – True friendship weather the sometime difficulties of relationships, forgiving when needed, and loving each other even when it hurts. A true friendship isn’t one-sided. Both friends are willing to lay down their life for the other. Grace is freely and generously given.

I have a number of friendship I would consider true friendships. Of course, Cheryl and my boys make the list, but there are others. We’ve been through life together. I can’t imagine my life without them.

What makes a true friend in your opinion?

Dr. Martin Luther King Wasn’t Perfect — And That Should Be Encouraging

aa_king_subj_e

Dr. Martin Luther King wasn’t perfect.

And that should be encouraging to all of us.

I’m reminded of the great prophet Elijah from the Bible. God used him once to hold back the rain. He was fed by ravens. He kept a widow and her son alive — miraculously.

Yet, one of the most encouraging Bible verses about Elijah to me is James 5:17: Elijah was a person just like us.

And, I’m reminded of that when I think of Dr. King.

Dr. King was a person — just like us.

If we aren’t careful, because he accomplished so much, we can make Dr. King something he wasn’t.

He wasn’t perfect.

Wait, don’t throw things. I’m a fan. I’ve studied him beyond his most famous speech.

Was he great? Of course.

Was he extraordinaire? Absolutely.

Did he do great things? Without a doubt.

These lines from his famous “I Have a Dream Speech” alone are grand enough for celebration:

I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.

This is our hope.

As a pastor, knowing these words were obviously inspired by Dr. King’s knowledge of Scripture, I’m impressed. So inspiring. I wish I could do it that well.

But, was Dr. King perfect?

I don’t think so.

I doubt, based on what I know of his faith as a Gospel preacher that he would even claim perfection apart from Christ. Only Jesus is perfect. Dr. King surely believed this.

We honor his birth because of his impact on our world.

In fact, he’s one of the best examples of leaving a legacy that we have in modern history. His work keeps encouraging, inspiring, and making us better.

We honor him because he was fighting for a perfect dream.

We honor him because he was willingly to sacrificially give everything to achieve his dream.

Yet, sadly, his dream yet to be fully realized. His work is not finished.

This year alone should teach us we haven’t reached the dream Dr. King fought for with his very life. Ferguson. New York. Your city.

Every hill and mountain has not been made low. The rough places are not yet plain. There are still crooked places. The glory of our Lord hasn’t been fully revealed.

Peace has not been achieved.

And, here’s why it matters so much, in my opinion, that Dr. King — the man — wasn’t perfect.

If we see him as perfect, then, those of us who know we are not, (people like you and me) may feel we can never measure up to his standard. That we could never attain greatness, because we don’t have the charisma of Dr. King. Or, the courage. Or, the oratory ability.

In fact, we may not even try. We may not give ourselves the chance for God to use us for His glory.

So, we will dismiss any dream we have as unattainable. Even our efforts to continue the dream Dr. King had will cease because we falsely believe that such acts of greatness were reserved for the one man — Dr. King. Or, maybe a few like him.

But, that’s not true, is it?

Dr. King was great, but only His Savior Jesus is perfect.

The best way to honor Dr. King is to strive for impact.

Strive for a perfect dream. Strive for an end to racism, an end to the fighting, a reality of peace — where all God’s children are able to sing, “Free at last. Praise God Almighty we are free at last.”

Have a dream. A big, hairy audacious dream.

That kind of living honors the legacy.

The fact is that all of us are capable of greatness. If we have big dreams — ones that honor others and make the world a better place — and we do everything in our power to realize them, we can be used of God to accomplish great things.

There will never be another Dr. King. Just like there never was another Elijah.

But, there will never be another you either.

And, we need your dream.

We need your work.

We need your energy and your vision and your passionate attempt to make things better in our world. We need your contribution to the peace and prosperity of our land.

So start honoring Dr. King!

Be brave. Be bold. Dream big. Live strong. Do good things!