5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication

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In my career, I work with a lot of people in a lot of settings. You might say my job involves a lot of relationships. And, in the process, I have learned the key to healthy relationships is communication. Communication is an art of sorts. Some are better at it than others.

I have seen relationships destroyed because of poor communication. I know marriages that could improve if we improved the communication in the marriage. I’ve seen people avoid other people, because they know how the communication will go when they encounter them. I’ve known people who are short on quality relationships, and, honestly, many times it is because they never learned or don’t practice healthy communication.

So, sincerely, this post is intended to help. We are all guilty or some of these at times. This blogger/pastor included. So, this is a reminder to me also.

Here are 5 Don’ts of Healthy Communication:

Don’t always have a bigger story. This is the one I’ve been guilty of the most of these five. Someone is telling you their story and their experience reminds you of your experience. So, naturally, you interrupt their story, or don’t appear to be listening closely, because you want to share your story. But, remember, right now they are sharing “their” experience. It is important enough to them to share it with you. Don’t try to trump their story. It is rude and it shuts them down. Discipline yourself to wait for the right opportunity…and be okay if it doesn’t come…sometimes your only role is to listen.

Don’t talk more than you listen. This will address the person you’re thinking of in the first point that is always sharing their story. They never listen. They don’t give you a chance to share yours. If this is you…stop talking and listen. Ask questions. Show genuine concern. Be interested in what others have to say too. You’ll find people more interested in what you have to share when it’s your turn.

Don’t always be negative. All of us are negative at times. Life is hard and it impacts us. That’s partly what friendships are for…to share our burdens with one another. But every conversation and every comment we make shouldn’t be negative. That makes it difficult to build a sustainable, healthy relationship, because sometimes the other person needs you to be positive on the day they are especially negative.

Don’t consistently have the last word. Sure you’ve got one more word to share. We get that. You’ve already proven that point. But, sometime let them say the final word. It’s humbling for you. And, good. For you and them. And, the conversation. And, the relationship.

Don’t speak before you think. This is so important. Maybe the most important. It includes the saying, “If you can’t say something good…don’t say anything…or nothing if you want to be like Thumper…at all.” If we could catch our words before they exit our mouths, filter them through the power of love and grace, then release them, we could keep from injuring those with whom we are trying to communicate. And, relationships could thrive apart from the injury of inappropriate or awkward…often even mean-spirited words.

Okay, be honest, upon which of these do you need to improve? What others would you share? Remeber, I shared mine. Now your turn.

5 Steps to Take if You’re Addicted to Porn

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This is a guest post by Tom with Ever Accountable. Tom is a 30 year old husband of one beautiful woman and father of two rambunctious boys. He is a passionate crusader against internet pornography after witnessing the destruction it causes in lives. He blogs for Ever Accountable because he believes their accountability software for Android phones will keep users honest and open in their relationships.

5 Steps to Take if You’re Addicted to Porn

Perhaps there is nothing more sacred on this earth than family. Our family fills the primal need to have intimate connections with others of our own species. Our species is a kind that thrives on real connection with real people, and there is no stronger connection than that of a family. So, it is with great sadness that we see the direction of society’s apathy towards perhaps the number one destroyer of families: internet pornography. What follows are five steps to take if you feel you might be addicted to porn.

Admit it

The first step for beating any addiction is to admit that the addiction exists. There is a distinction between accepting and admitting that is obvious to everyone except an addict. An addict thinks that accepting the addiction as part of who they are is the same as admitting their addiction. However, the addiction is not who you are – the addiction just took up residence without asking. Admitting is realizing that you have to evict the addiction, or you will lose everything. Admitting is taking action because you realize that the most important thing in your life is getting rid of pornography addiction.

Knowledge is Power

Knowledge of its destructive nature is essentially what keeps us from trying meth, cocaine, heroin, or any other hardcore drug. Why should pornography be any different? For one thing, the problem is not admitted as such in mainstream culture, but there are still great resources that help us understand the science behind porn addiction and these outlets help us understand why we should quit. The science helps us get past the lies that the porn industry feeds us. Porn is harmful, it is destructive, it will ruin you.

Stop hiding it

Porn thrives in privacy. I get that it can seem impossibly hard to tell your spouse or significant other. I get that you fear losing your relationship when you think about telling those close to you. I understand that, but I also know that telling your spouse about your addiction is necessary and the absolute best thing you can do to stop your addiction. When you remove the secrecy of your addiction, you remove the “security” blanket that has kept you trapped in the addiction cycle.

Be held accountable

Because of porn’s reliance on secrecy, it is essential to find someone that will hold you accountable. Find someone that will be firm with you and bust your chops when they need busted, and lift you up when you need lifted. Talk to people in your church that you admire, talk with friends that you think of as strong, moral individuals, and talk with your spouse. Find somebody that you can trust with your addiction and have weekly meetings with them.

Protect your electronic devices

Perhaps the most helpful advice is to get right to the root and fight this problem at the source. Porn is still circulated via print, I know, but the internet is where porn breeds, hunts, and eats. It is almost nigh impossible to live without computers, smart phones, and tablets in today’s world, and fortunately, accountability software exists for this very reason. Accountability software allows you the opportunity to continue using those devices, but with the knowledge that you’ll be held accountable for your browsing habits. I like to use the analogy that putting accountability software on your phone or computer is like being loaned the keys to a Corvette, but with the understanding that the car will be inspected by an expert mechanic upon return. You might be tempted to test the limits of the car, but is that what you want to do when you know your actions will be brought to light? You know where your addiction lives, so it is absolutely imperative that you put in place a defense on that domain.

Don’t buy into the lies that pornography isn’t destructive. Don’t believe that your life hasn’t changed if you’re already in the addictive cycle. When you pull away from your addiction you will very quickly see the destruction porn was wrecking on your life. Be encouraged that stopping porn will be the best step you take for restoring every part of your life.

Things My Wife Does I Take for Granted

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My wife is amazing. In so many ways. She’s intelligent. Beautiful. Caring. She’s a far better person than me. But, she’s also a doer for others. All the time. She does so much for me and our household. Some of them…honestly…I take for granted.

Recently I saw her watering the pretty flowers we have on our front steps. I must admit, I’m not a great detail person. I would be likely to forget those flowers are there, but when I get home from a long day at work, it’s nice to walk into a home that is so welcoming. Those flowers this fall are a part of that.

That’s when it hit me. How many things does she do that I take for granted? She just does them. I don’t even know when she does them all the time. She just does.

Here are a few examples:

Watering flowers – Okay, I mentioned this one. But, someone has to water them…and she apparently does it every day.

Feeding the dog – I love our dog. I don’t mind helping with this one. I just never do. It’s in Cheryl’s daily routine.

Washing clothes – I’ve joked that I only need a couple pairs of underwear. The girl never stops. It seems she’s always washing clothes. (She’s even said she misses washing the boy’s clothes. Whatever!)

Clothes from cleaners – I take my shirts to the cleaners…I mean…Cheryl takes my clothes to the cleaner. And picks them up. And places them back in my closet. All I do is find them clean. Amazing how that works.

Check book balanced and bills paid – I would pay the bills, but the checkbook wouldn’t be balanced if it weren’t for her. Of course, she is an accountant, and this comes naturally for her. She actually feels better when she knows this is done well, but no doubt I take it for granted. Many times.

Special dates remembered – Birthdays, for example, come the same date every year for everyone we know. Funny how that works. Cheryl remembers. Even when I don’t.

Social calendar arranged – Cheryl keeps my work calendar on her phone. It helps her know where I am throughout the day. (Guys, this is not an inconvenience, but a huge blessing. When our spouse wants to know what we did during the day, because they love living life with us, this gives them a head start. It also helps Cheryl know how to pray for me throughout the day.) But, mostly it allows her to plan our social life working with my busy schedule. And, I love having a social life. I just don’t like planning it. She does this. Continually.

I’m sure there are many more….such as being thoughtful enough to send thank you and sympathy cards…but these were 7 that easily came to mind when I took the time to think about them. And, you know how much I like 7. :)  And, at first glance, they may seem like little things, but they are really big things…for example…if we don’t feed her the dog dies…but all of them make life better for me. Bottom line, my life would have less color, less excitement, and less enjoyment without Cheryl. Forgive me for taking that for granted so many times.

Men, what do you take for granted that your wife does?

5 Tips to be a Better Dad This Week

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Five tips to be a better dad today this week:

Review your calendar for the week now – Make sure your family is getting some of your best time. Plenty of it. Children often spell love T I M E. They want yours. Rework your schedule if needed and possible.

Plan a date night with your wife – Protect your marriage…ultimately your family…by regular investments in it. Model for your kids what a good marriage looks like.

Make a prayer list for each of your kids – Write them on index cards and place the cards where you will see them often. What are their greatest struggles? Their fears? The parts of their character that need the most development? Pray for this list daily. Several times throughout the day if possible.

Plan long term – Take an hour this week to plan an intentional retreat with you and each child sometime in the next six months. It could be a day or a weekend, but make it intentional. Make it fun and character building. Plan questions ahead of time to stir meaningful discussions with them.

Turn off the television – I saved the hardest one for the last suggestion. But, seriously, it is hard, isn’t it? You work hard. You come home tired. You just want to veg in front of the tube. I get it. But, I speak from experience, these moments will pass so quickly. And what if you used that time to play a game with your children? What if that spurred a conversation? What if that changed the way a child looks at life? What if that created a moment the child never forgets? Those memories start…as all memories do…in a moment.

I realize this list is impossible for some. You have work commitments that have you out of town this week. Your children may object at first to a change in schedules that interrupts their schedule. You can’t force it. You may be separated from your child for custody reasons. You may have to build slowly to complete some things on this list.  You may have to be more creative.

The key is to be intentional as a dad. This is a great week to start.

(By the way…this works for moms too…I’ve just never been one :) )

What tips do you have to improve your dadship this week?  

Ann Voscamp: 3 Game Changing Principles for Life – Catalyst

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Ann Voskamp spoke at Catalyst Conference recently. Her Twitter bio says, “Wife to the Farmer: Mama to 6: Author of One Thousand Gifts (Zondervan: NYTimes Besteller) Seeking to follow One alone.”

Her message was one of my favorite talks, possibly because it spoke to me in this season of my life. She kept her audience captive throughout her talk. It was a powerful message.

I also learned Ann is an introvert like me, so even though I saw her at a backstage event, I didn’t bug her. I just processed her message.

Here are my notes from Ann’s talk:

  • “You can’t walk anywhere honestly and authentically apart from His promises”
  • “Nothing can overwhelm you like his grace can overtake you.”
  • “The enemy only has two battle plans. To blind you from who God is and blind to who you are in Him”

Three game-changing principles for absolutely everyone…including pastors…

From Jehoshaphat’s story in 2 Chronicles 20:

1. When overwhelmed. Pause.

  • It’s counter cultural and counter to our natural inclination, but it’s Christlike.
  • Only then we will remember who we are in Christ and live out of our identity.

2. Be present to His presence in the present moment.

  • Enter into His presence with thanksgiving. Thanksgiving is always the right response to the presence of God.
  • I know who God is…He is good. In one minute you have your identity.

3. Pour – We can only pour out of the filling of His presence.

  • So many of us spend so much time fighting tomorrow’s battle with worry and yesterday’s battle with regret that they can’t live effectively within the battlefield of the present.
  • Why would we rather strive hard for Jesus than be satisfied with what Jesus has already done for us?
  • If you want your love to change the world, slow down enough to enjoy more of His love.

This was a life-giving message for me. Thanks Ann. Thanks Catalyst.

10 Easy Steps to Spoil a Child

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Have you ever wanted a spoiled child?

It is easy.

Here’s a 10-step quick formula guaranteed to produce results:

  • Give children everything they want.
  • Never tell them no.
  • Fight with your spouse over discipline.
  • Put children first, even over your spouse.
  • Strive to make every moment “the greatest moment of their life”.
  • Teach them they are the center of the universe.
  • Take their side every time…even over the teacher.
  • Make excuses for them.
  • Ignore their “minor” discipline problems.
  • Let them talk to you however they want.

Try that for 30 days and I guarantee you a spoiled child or your money back.

Good parenting is hard. It means saying no when the easy thing to say is yes. It means molding character that will yield maturity for a lifetime. Don’t take the easy route. Go for best!

I’m praying for you!

Any more suggestions to spoil a child? 

7 Ways to Protect Your PK…Pastor’s Kid in Ministry

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I’ve written extensively about protecting the family in ministry. Recently my wife has guest posted about the unique role of the pastor’s wife. One comment I received was well taken. She basically said…”What about the PK’s? Who is looking out for them? Many disappear from the church as adults.”

PK = Pastor’s Kids.

I heard that. I have addressed the issue generally, as a family, but I haven’t posted specifically about protecting the children in ministry.

I have noticed the issue of the commenter’s concern. I’m blessed that my PK’s survived ministry well. Both of my boys are very active in the church. One is self-employed, but works mostly in the Christian sector, and one is in full-time ministry. I understand, however, that it is a problem for many pastors and their families.

By the time some pastor’s children reach adulthood they are often done with church…actually they are more done with the busyness and politics of church…and they want little or nothing to do with it. So, they sit on the sidelines of ministry…if they attend church at all.

Honestly, as much as I have heard it talked about, at least within my circles of ministry, it is more rare than it is a norm. I probably know more pastors who have children active in church than I know those who have children that have disappeared. I don’t know the statistics…please share them in the comments if you do…but, if we could avoid damaging a child growing up in the ministry world altogether I think we should.

Here are 7 suggestions for protecting your PK:

Level the expectations – Hold your children to Biblical standards. Train them well. Discipline appropriately. You hopefully teach it and you should parent what you teach. But, don’t be surprised when your children aren’t perfect. They aren’t anymore than you are…or anyone else’s children.

Let them be kids – Don’t expect them to care as much about ministry as you do when they are…SEVEN or even seventeen. They might. Mine did to a certain extent…on certain days. And, then other days they just wanted to shoot basketballs in the church gym while I went on church visitation.

Live what you preach – If you want them to appreciate the ministry, let them see you as authentic. Authenticity means you are in private who you claim to be in public. And chances are good they are observing both. They’ll respect you when you are equally transparent and honest with how you live your life on Sundays and through the week.And, the more they respect you…the more they can respect the ministry. Remember, their primary concept of ministry is you.

Protect your time at home – When you are home…be home. Let voicemail do its thing. Put down the computer. Say no to outside interruptions. There will always be exceptions in the role of a pastor, but they should be rare, not common place. The children need to know you value your time with your spouse and them even more than your time with others.

Be their parent more than their pastor – You may be their pastor, but first they need a parent. I actually found others on staff, or even pastor friends in other churches, were sometimes better at being their pastor anyway. No one could replace my role as parent.

Give them roles as they desire – My boys helped launch a youth group. They led at camps. They worked with children and preschoolers. But, I never forced it. I let them serve where they wanted to serve. Interestingly, when the idea was their’s, they seemed more likely to want to be involved.

Let them do ministry with you – My boys went to committee meetings. Staff meetings. Visitations. I took my boys on mission trips. Unless it was a highly confidential meeting for the parties involved, I gave them access to my calendar. They got to appreciate what I do as a pastor…not resent it because I wasn’t home. Again, this was voluntary not mandatory.

Someone is wondering why I didn’t put anything about my personal walk with Christ as one of the points. Well, hopefully that’s understood in the role of a pastor and a believer. But yes, of course that. Consider it understood that this is number one for every question of how to do ministry effectively.

Pastors…or even better…PK’s…anything else you’d recommend?

The Biggest Mistake of My Life

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One of our boys has always been such a deep thinker. When he was 3 years old, watching a movie with him was a chore, because he would analyze every aspect of the plot. We would try to explain to him it was only a cartoon, without a ton of hidden meaning, but it was never enough. Even today he’s the analyzer of life. He asks the deep questions.

Personally, he takes after me (although he’s more fluent at it than I am). I’m a questioner too…and believe it’s been a help to me in life, ministry and leadership. The best questions get the best answers.

So it was not surprising when one day, when he was an early teenager, seemingly out of nowhere, Nate asked, Daddy, what’s the biggest mistake you’ve ever made in your life?”

I didn’t have to think long. We had owned a very successful, fast-growing business. We stood to make lots of money in the years ahead, and we sold that business to buy another. It was devastating. If it could go wrong it did. Although it’s a very long story and we felt we were doing the right thing at the time, it proved to be a very painful five year experience until we sold the business, basically walking away with nothing.

I told Nate (we call him Nathaniel) that selling one successful business and buying that business was obviously the biggest mistake of my life.

Nate countered quickly, “Yea, but you’ve said you probably would have never surrendered to ministry had that experience not occurred.

You’re right,” I replied. “I was too busy chasing a dream. God worked it for good. But, that was definitely my biggest mistake in life.”

As I said, I’m an analyzer too, so several days later, while I was in a time of prayer, Nate’s question came to my mind. I decided to ask God about it. In my prayer, I said, “God, why did you allow me to make the biggest decision of my life? I would have followed you if you had made it clear. Why couldn’t you let me do it another way? That was such a difficult time in our life.” (It was one of those rare pity parties I had with God. Don’t be afraid to have them. He understands.)

God seemed to interrupt me before I could continue. Now please understand, I have never heard God audibly. And, I’d love to say He speaks to me everyday. But, there have been a few times where I am certain I heard the impression of God on my heart…where I know God “spoke” clearly to me. This was one of those times. (As a side note, they always line up with truth from God’s word.)

I sensed God say, “Ron (I’m so glad He knows my name), your biggest mistake was not buying that business.”

I was surprised. I figured it must not be God to hear such a reply. So, I snapped back, almost as if I was sarcastically speaking to my own false thoughts, “Oh really, well then what was the biggest mistake of my life? Because I can’t think of one bigger.”

God interrupted again…

“Ron, your biggest mistake was following your will for your life and not mine.”

And, God was silent. Point made. Point accepted. I had no more questions.

The truth is many had seen what God was doing in my life; including my wife, but I had ignored them…continually replying that we are all “called to ministry”…and I resisted the surrender to vocational ministry for many years.

God’s counsel that morning has proven true so many times, as I reflect back over my life and the decisions I have made. The greatest failure in my life has always seem to be a result of when I do what I want to do rather than what God wants me to do.

Here’s hoping someone learns from my mistakes.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

This is a guest post by my friend Michael Kelley. Michael is Director of Discipleship, Lifeway Church Resources Division and an awesome author, husband, father and friend. I’ve shared his stuff before, because I believe in him and his work. As he releases his next book, I invited him to share some thoughts with my readers.

There is No Such Thing as Ordinary

I’ve never met a president. Or saved a child from a burning building. Or climbed Everest. I don’t run in powerful circles or tweet nuggets of wisdom adored by millions. My office walls don’t have pictures with me and the Queen of England or medals from my wins at the Olympic Games. Perhaps if I were an international man of mystery, I’d look over and see a picture of me standing next to a world leader at that ceremony when I was awarded some token for my bravery. Then I could turn and see another wall full of mementos and trinkets collected from my adventures. Instead I’m looking at four family pictures, a calendar, and a particularly fierce-looking rendering of a black and yellow fire- breathing dragon laying waste to a castle.

Ah, parenthood.

A regular life isn’t bad, necessarily. In fact, a certain kind of bliss accompanies the “normal” life. There aren’t a lot of surprises, and for a guy who has a to-do list for every day (with the last item on that list being “Make tomorrow’s list”), a lack of surprises can be very comforting. What is more, an ordinary life actually affords an opportunity to love things like pictures from an eight-year-old of dragons and castles. In an ordinary life, your existence becomes papered with moments like these.

And yet . . .

And yet there are those days that just feel boring. The routine becomes monotony, and you find yourself refreshing your e-mail over and over again, waiting for something—anything—to break up the ticking of the clock. You feel something inside of you, something that appreciates the life you have, but at the same time wonders if there’s something more. Something that you’re missing. I feel that way sometimes.
The truth is that we will all spend 90 percent of our time here on earth just doing life. Just being ordinary. If I were writing a self-help book, I might follow that realistic, slightly demotivating statement up with something like: “Break out of the ordinary. Pursue your bliss. Go skydiving. Do something important. Carpe diem.” The same motivation, in Christian terms, might read: “God’s will is that you have a life of adventure. Get out there and make an eternal difference. Do something big for God.”

All of those statements are true in a sense; all of them can be appropriate. What those statements communicate is that we should be focused on Jesus and expanding His kingdom. That should be our priority. Those statements challenge us to recognize that we only have a limited time here on earth, so we need to make sure we spend our time doing things that matter. However, implicit in an exhortation like “do something big for God” is the notion that we are currently not doing stuff that matters, and we have to abandon that insignificant stuff to break out of the rut—chase the dream . . . be the man . . . overcome obscurity . . . all that stuff.

Chasing dreams isn’t the problem. Neither is maximizing what you have to make a difference in the world for the sake of Christ. The problem is in our definition of significance.

People tend to believe that the pathway to significance is paved with the big, the showy, and the grand. The people who are most often lauded as influential are the ones doing the big, impressive things with their lives. Consequently, those same people cannot involve themselves in these mundane details of life. Indeed, the mundane details are like anchors that weigh a person down from the bigger and the better. So moving toward a life that matters involves moving past the details that don’t.

But what if we’re wrong? What if “bigness” is not an accurate measure of significance? What if the whole idea of “ordinary” is a myth? And what if a life of great importance isn’t found by escaping the details but embracing them? What if God actually doesn’t want you to escape from the ordinary, but to find significance and meaning inside of it?

That’s what this book is about. This book is for the stay-at-home mom and the office job dad. It’s for the regular church member and the ordinary citizen. It’s for the person who has ever looked at the seemingly mundane details of life and wondered if they are really doing anything that’s worthwhile. It’s for all of us ordinary people who are following an extraordinary God. My hope, as you read the first half of this book, is that you would be awakened to the myth of the ordinary as you see and extraordinary God who is constantly moving and working. Then, as you move into the second half of this book, I pray that you might see the greater purposes in a few specific, but often ordinary, areas of life that we tend to push to the margin. And maybe, when we get to the end, we will have begun to see God, and life, in a whole new way. Perhaps we will have begun to see that there really is no such thing as ordinary when you are following an extraordinary God.