Archive for the ‘Relationships’ Category

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Here is an excerpt from a teaching at Resonate Church, Anchorage Alaska.

There are a lot of nice people in this world. These people have the ultimate goal of being nice in every situation. These people are not bad, but they can be unhealthy. no one would know it to look at them. They don’t have enemies. But one day a person like this will quit a job for no apparent reason, give up on a marriage, get mysterious diseases, or even commit suicide, literally dying from a disease called “Fear of Conflict.” I am not talking about a personality type. I am taking about a behavior that stems from something inside.

Being a peacemaker is different from being afraid of conflict. Being a peacemaker is actually a very courageous thing to do. Being a peacemaker is the act of reconciling two parties who were formerly enemies. Being a peacemaker is wisely helping people see common ground. Peacemakers thrive in the midst of conflict. In the midst of conflict is where their peacemaking skills can really shine. When we are afraid of conflict, we think we are keeping the peace, but it is really only peaceful on the surface. There could be a lethal storm brewing underneath. We are really just putting a bandaid on cancerous cells.

If you grew up in an abusive home, maybe the only thing you know is negative conflict, so you run as far from conflict as you can. Avoidance is your safety mechanism. But healthy families know how to argue, how to disagree, and how to come out on the other side with a deeper and more loving relationship than ever before.

I’m told there is a line in Jerry Maguire where Jerry says, “You think we’re arguing, I say we’re finally talking!”

Talking is healthy, sometimes even loud talking. A team, whether a church team, a family unit, a workplace team, a sports team, or a marriage is not a truly functional team unless it is able to embrace conflict.

For someone who has rarely or never experienced conflict in a healthy way, doing it can be scary. It can feel unnatural and even wrong. However, conflict can strengthen a relationship: in a marriage, a job, a church, almost anywhere.

Have you ever been really nervous about dealing with a conflict? Or have you ever expressed yourself honestly and then got the cold shoulder as a result? We all have. That is why we fear conflict. We aren’t the only ones. Some of our biblical heroes in the bible also ran from conflict.

Abraham feared conflict when he told the kings his wife was his sister. He was afraid that the kings would kill him to have her for themselves.

Aaron operated from a fear of conflict when he gave into the Israelites when they asked for an idol to worship, the golden calf. He didn’t have Moses strong leadership and he caved to the pressure of the complaining crowd.

Many kings listed in the Bible worshipped The Lord themselves, but they refused to eradicate the worship of false gods in their land. They feared that someone would be mad at them if they took a stand. Most probably, they too feared conflict.

In the New Testament, we find Peter running from conflict when he denies his association with Jesus. He was afraid they would crucify him right along with Jesus. This is the man who so confidently stated that even if everyone else deserted Jesus, surely he would not. He was wrong. The fear of conflict got the best of him.

Fear puts our imagination to work in a negative way. If we have experienced punishment for being honest, we will fear being honest again. I want you to walk away today turning your imagination toward conflict in a positive sense. Imagine conflict as a key to a door. It unlocks the door and on the other side of the door you can find new understanding of another person, new understanding of yourself, and new bonds of relationship forming. You cannot control how the other person will always react, but you can control how you treat them. You can experience the love of Jesus for another human being in a new way.

There were those heroes of our faith who were tempted to fear conflict like Esther and Gideon. Thankfully, these people did not linger in their fears, but they acted with courage. Each of them took a step toward the door of conflict, turned the key, and opened it. When they opened that door, scary though it was, they liberated themselves along with their entire nation. You never fully know how God is planning on using you. Don’t let a little conflict scare you away.

To deal with conflict we must believe core things. We must have these presuppositions about ourselves and about others.

1a: My thoughts and feelings are valid.
1b: The thoughts and feelings of my team member are valid.

I love this one scene from the TV show, Everybody Loves Raymond. It illustrates this point so well.

RAY BARONE : What? No! It was all fun. Come on, I told you, people thought that we did it on purpose.

DEBRA BARONE : I felt humiliated.

RAY BARONE : Don’t feel humiliated.

DEBRA BARONE : Don’t tell me how to feel.

RAY BARONE : But you’re wrong.

DEBRA BARONE : There’s no right or wrong, this is how I feel. You can not tell me not be humiliated, I just am.

RAY BARONE : Okay, all right, feel humiliated.

DEBRA BARONE : I don’t anymore.

RAY BARONE : Okay, all right…

DEBRA BARONE : Now I’m just angry. I mean I can’t believe – I can’t believe you – It’s bad enough what you did to me tonight, but you don’t even care how I feel about it. All you care about is how well you did, you laugh-whore

RAY BARONE : Maybe you should… go back to being humiliated.

Think about the Book of Psalms. God considered the feelings of the authors of those Psalms valid enough to put in the Bible. Some of those feelings were not nice. It’s okay. There is a gigantic book placed right in the middle of the Bible that tells us that feelings are okay to have. Some of you need permission to feel what you feel. It’s okay, God can be God and we can be people. People who have feelings.

2a: I have some knowledge or perspective that my teammate may need.
2b: My teammate has knowledge or perspective that I may need.

Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisers they succeed. (Proverbs 15:22 NIV)

3: People can change.

Not only can people be transformed by Jesus, but people can change their perspective in any number of ways.

4: Engaging in conflict has the power to strengthen and improve our team performance.

Why do we risk engaging in conflict with those we love? Isn’t it because we believe that it will benefit our relationship? It is worth the effort to us. If we can just extend that circle out a bit and be willing to conflict with people in church instead of just leaving a church whenever conflict arises or just resorting to gossip, lets let it pull us together as a stronger, more productive unit.

5: After discussion, if we still disagree, it won’t ruin the relationship.
(In other words, I am confident that no one is seeking to destroy me. I am safe here.)

The reason conflict is so dreaded is that so few of us are really good at it. Let’s talk about bad conflict, what it looks like. Let’s use this description to distinguish from bad conflict.

Ugly Conflict:

Accusing
Controlling
Ordering
Focus on Impenetrable Differences
Belittling another’s value

Beautiful Conflict:

Admitting (“I” Statements)
Empowering (Letting the person have feelings and thoughts of their own.)
Asking (Drawing the other person out. Asking for clarification. Repeating what you hear.)
Focus on Common Ground (Coming up with creative solutions together.)
Reiterating the value of another (Telling or showing the person that your relationship with them matters to you.)

The point of conflict is not always that we agree.
The point of some conflict is that we are heard.

Made in the image of God, we are innately powerful. We have the power to affect others in a drastic way.

Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses. (Proverbs 27:5, 6 NIV)

An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips. (Proverbs 24:26 NIV)

I once had a situation in Church where I was co-leading a bible study with Jake and a young lady in our class made a comment about marriage. I was thinking about how to wrap up the discussion and made some more closing comments after she made hers. The comments I made had nothing to do with what she had just said, but she thought that I was implying something about her relationship with her husband. I was so happy when she came to me later admitting that the comments hurt her. When I explained that I had not intended the comments to be directed toward her in any way she was relieved. Most people would not have done this. They would have held it against me all because of a silly misunderstanding.

Our relationship is like a pearl inside a clam. The more that sand is irritated, the more conflict we are able to engage in and come through, the stronger our relationship becomes.

But when we conflict, we strive to engage in beautiful conflict. You cannot control another person’s reaction, but you can control your own. You can follow the rules of healthy conflict and watch your relationships flourish, watch your life and your team become more successful than you ever imagined!

For far too long we have remained uneducated and uninformed on God’s gender views. I read a wonderfully articulate book recently called, “Why Not Women?” by YWAM co-founder, Loren Cunningham and David Joel Hamilton. Honestly, I think it is a tragedy that I have spent my life in the church and have not before been taught how to interpret scripture with regards to God’s views of men and women. I have had so many questions and insufficient answers. I have been saddled with a call of God on my life along with leadership and teaching gifts, somehow always wondering if my ministry as a woman can and will be truly legitimate in the sight of God and in light of scripture. At times my skewed perceptions of myself and other women have caused me to be lazy in stewarding my gifts. Because of a few misunderstood scriptures, we as Christians can often put women in permanent “special Ed” making them ride the “short bus” all the way to church. So much wrong thinking is promulgated by people with the best of intentions, which is why I will refuse to point the finger. For I have been one of those well intentioned individuals from time to time.

There is no way that I can summarize the extensive research of Cunningham and Hamilton, but I will take a step back and try to show you how we should be viewing the scriptures in a more accurate way.

First of all, the Bible was not written in English. This is elementary, and I don’t mean to insult your intelligence. At least I hope you do not think that Paul spoke in the good ole King James. It was written in Hebrew and Greek, sometimes Aramaic. Modern translators are human. They made assumptions in the way that they chose to interpret the scriptures into English. Elements like punctuation, syntax, and context goes into the fine art of interpretation. Most of our translations use the word “man” whether the original word reflects the word used for both males and females or whether it is specifically intended for the male gender. This fact alone can create some confusion as to whom the author was intending to speak.

The thing we need to rely on is the original manuscripts we have. For example, there is a symbol in the Greek that is difficult to translate. It means something emphatic like, “What? No way! Nonsense!” By leaving that symbol untranslated, we are left without an important piece of the puzzle. Such is the case of 1 Corinthians 14:35 where Paul says something to seem to contradict the way he esteemed women. He says, “for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.” This statement seems to be totally inconsistent with his previous instruction for all people (including women) to prophesy and pray aloud in an orderly fashion. But when you insert the uninterpreted Greek symbol after it, meaning “Nonesense!” you can see that he was only making reference to an absurd saying of the day. You see Greeks and Romans had all sorts of sayings that discouraged women from speaking at all. In his next words, Paul comes down on this type of thinking saying, “Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached? If anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command. But if anyone ignores this, they will themselves be ignored.” (1 Corinthians 14:36-38 NIV) He ends the chapter by encouraging “brothers and sisters” to prophesy and not to forbid the speaking in tongues.

Another example is the scripture about the meaning of the word “head” in the Greek. 1 Corinthians 11:3 speaks of the head of Christ and the head of woman, and the head of man. Head can mean authority, but with the particular word used, it most often means “source” or “origin.” Look at that scripture again in light of the word “source” or “origin.” “But I want you to realize that the source/origin of every man is Christ, and the source/origin of the woman is man, and the source/ of Christ is God.” Look at the context and it makes even more sense. Again, I cannot get into the intricacies of this scripture now. Suffice it to say that scripture emphasizes our interdependence and mutual submission, man and woman, Jesus and the Father. It was never Paul’s intent to pull out our differences, rather to unite us under some foundational principles intended for men and women of Christ.

Secondly, the world of Jesus and Paul, the Apostle, was much different than the world of today. Our lack of knowledge of the world of antiquity can cause us to misinterpret sayings and intents of the biblical authors. Women of Jesus and Paul’s day were grossly undervalued. This is not because of any Old Testament law, it was because of the sinfulness of mankind and the enmity that the enemy put between men and women after the Fall. This is the reason injustice has prevailed for hundreds of thousands of years.

The ideas we read and take for granted in the Bible were actually quite revolutionary in their time. For example, when Paul says in 1 Timothy 2:12 ” I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet,” it was highly likely that he was speaking to one particular woman who was spreading false doctrine. This is evident from the clear change from the plural to the singular in the Greek. We are only seeing one side of the communication between Paul and Timothy. Timothy knew who he was talking about. He didn’t need to name names. Not only that, the fact that he said that this woman should learn from her husband at home was not a way to keep her down, it was a way to lift her up. It was a revolutionary concept of that day to educate a woman at all, let alone in serious matters of theology. In saying this, he was actually holding men responsible for the education of their wives, daughters, sisters and mothers. These were radical, revolutionary ideas inspired by the Holy Spirit to propel women forward in the church and the pursuit of God.

This is a complex passage of scripture, but the gist of what Paul is saying is that we should all be silent and be in a stance of submission. Men are to lift up holy hands without anger or disputing, and women should remain in a posture ready to learn. In many of the pagan traditions of the day, the only way women could participate was to make loud noises, sound effects as the men would make the offerings. Paul was trying to counter this practice by advocating that women be elevated to the level of studious and serious learners along with the men.

Thirdly, we need to look at scripture in all of its entirety. Did you realize that nowhere in the Old Testament is it commanded for women to submit to men, or even for wives to submit to husbands? “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27 NIV) From the very beginning God clearly shows us his perfect intent is that we were both genders created in his image. No gender can express God fully without the other. Just as Jesus is not complete without the Father and the Holy Spirit, so we a not complete without each other.

I don’t even have time to delve into all the New Testament leaders of the church such as Pricilla, Phoebe, Junias (the apostle), and the groups of deaconesses that Paul mentions. Again, this can be a problem of versions. You see, some versions say “the deacons and their wives.” However, a much more accurate translation is “deacons and deaconesses.”

You may have wondered why Jesus, encountering such gender inequity, did not seem to do much to change the way things were for women of his day. Our general lack of understanding of the times blinds us to the ways he did radically promote the rights of women as human beings, equal with men. We also need to understand that Jesus did not have the time or calling to lead the march for women’s rights. Neither did he have time to eradicate slavery, abortion, or any other injustice of society. His mission in life was first to the lost sheep of Israel. In his death he was called to save the whole of humankind. Paul was called to reach the Gentiles, neither did he have time to eradicate prevailing ideas of male superiority of the day. But both Jesus and Paul did do their part to plant seeds of equality in the minds and hearts of people.

In later days, we have made great strides against the oppression of women, but I believe we still have much work left to do. We so easily forget that it was Christians who first paved the way for the suffrage movement. It was Christians who first decided to stand up and fight against the ideas that upheld the institution of slavery. We need to have the guts to move this issue to the front burner of our pulpits, our small groups, and our board rooms. We need men to care enough about this issue to bring it to light for others. There are people who keep the church at arms length because we portray a God who says he loves all people, but seems to put a on lid the potential of half the population. The churches that are growing and experiencing a move of God worldwide are being blessed because they are refusing to hold back their women. They are coming back to the way God originally intended from the Garden of Eden: men and women partners together, ruling and reigning together side by side.

I hope I have whet your appetite. Again, I highly recommend, “Why Not Women?” You can get it on Kindle for a very good price. Read for yourself, weigh the scriptures yourself and see if there is any Biblical evidence left to convict women to a life sentence of inequality, unfulfilled dreams, and unmet potential.

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Every time I post a blog about something that is close to my heart, I get a little nervous, a little hesitant. But it is usually those that tend to get noticed, and it is those blog posts that tend to affect people the most. I wanted to tackle the subject of women in leadership or women in ministry for quite some time, but was unsure of how to go about it. I know that this issue could be explored from lots of different angles, but I am going to begin with my heart and my own personal experience, maybe opening up many more blog topics to come. I just hope this opens up some honest discussion on the topic in your homes, in your churches, with your daughters and your sons.

I am a woman. I now can finally admit that I am a woman with leadership gifts. My journey to this discovery has been a long one and is still being unearthed in my life. As a young girl, I always wanted to do the right thing. I was extremely sensitive to the cues of others, and still am. I have always craved significance, the chance to make a difference in the world. When I was 5, I wanted to become an actress. That was the most significant job I could imagine because millions would see you on screen. I scoffed at my best friend who wanted to become a teacher. I thought, why would you become a teacher when you could become an actress? Ironically, I later became a teacher.

When I took the DISC profile in high school it didn’t make sense to me. I tested as a person with a little of each personality. This result made me feel hopelessly confused. I secretly envied people who could be “D’s” or driven people and get away with it, Later, I realized I was indeed a “D” but was hiding it under layers of what I thought I should be.

I would have loved to have majored in philosophy and religion in college, but I reasoned, what good would that do me? Unless I specifically planned to marry a pastor, what would I possibly do with a philosophy and religion degree? At that point, I didn’t even know if I would ever marry. I needed something practical that would make an income for me on my own. The only thing I knew was the classroom and the church. I preferred the church, but found greater opportunities in the classroom. The highest calling I could practically see for myself was as a school administrator, maybe even a school planter, planting schools across the country. I knew that I had too much vision for just one school.

Even in college, I was still not sure where I stood on the question of whether women could have unlimited leadership roles in the church. Still, as I found myself growing up, I found that unless I completely masked the person I was becoming, I needed it to be okay for women to lead in the church. I was becoming such a leader and it was a bit scary. I was not being drawn away from the church, but toward the church.

When you are called to be a leader you sense a burden that you cannot push aside. You sense this burden whether or not you have a husband who is a leader. You have a kind of creative energy that you cannot quench. You need to find an outlet or you feel like shriveling up. As the prophet Jeremiah said, it is like a fire shut up in your bones. Even as I describe it now, I think of the other women that must be out there, like me, trying to contain their fire because it just doesn’t seem appropriate to their surroundings.

A lot of assumptions are made according to gender– so many that we don’t even notice. Who do we ask to run sound at church? A man. Who do we ask to watch kids? A woman. Who do we assume is the church gossip? A woman. Who do we assume is the church visionary? A man. Women box women in as much as men do. It is our culture, it’s how we were taught. Therefore, a woman with a strong leadership gifting thinks that she must be losing her mind or have some kind of Jezebel spirit. Isn’t it interesting that the Jezebel spirit is so much more popularly identified than the Absalom spirit, which is really the same kind of thing? It’s just that we tend to view women with more skepticism, especially those with leadership abilities.

All I want to do here is to raise your awareness, men, of the obstacles that women have to overcome in order to lead. Not all women desire this, but the ones that do have many obstacles indeed, though they are becoming fewer as time marches on. I also want to raise awareness in women that you may be holding back parts of yourself only because you were brought up to believe it could not be so.

You see, everyone expected my husband to become a leader, so he ran the other way for a while. (That’s a topic for another day.) No one expected me to become a leader, at least not as significant as I wanted to be, and certainly not a leader of that type in the church. Therefore, it took me a long time to figure out that it was okay to have those kinds of desires. Thank God I have a husband who could encourage me through all this!

I know some wonderful gentlemen that believe in their heads that women should not have leadership roles in the church. They see it more as an intellectual discussion, not one that really affects the women they know and love. I honestly don’t think you realize what you are doing to us. You don’t realize how many “would be” leaders are in your midst. Even for men who do believe in women as church leaders, I think you honestly don’t see the roadblocks that are often set against female leaders, all because it’s our culture. It’s what comes naturally.

Well-manored minority ethnic people try not to talk about the impact of the ethnic differences that affect them because they do not want to make every conversation about these differences. They want to hope for the best. They want to assume that they were not chosen because someone else was more qualified. Women do the same thing. We don’t say anything because we are happy for the men in our lives who get promoted over us. We don’t want to be the squeaky wheel if he gets paid more. We are asked to serve in children’s ministry, so we do, even if we want to do more.

Even in mere everyday conversations, we downplay ourselves. We downplay our own abilities. We ask too many questions. We make too few confident statements. We need help finding our voice. Men, we need you to see us for who we are. We need you to draw us out. We have been operating with a handicap that you have not. We are on your teams, in your offices, in your homes and we cannot seem to unlock our fullest potential. Do not fear us– we are your friends. If you can help awaken this potential in us, we may become your most powerful allies. Coach us, make time for us, tell us what you see. Don’t allow us to hide behind your backs. Don’t allow us to perceive that manipulation is our only source of power. Challenge us to challenge you.

Together we can become better as a whole. Men and women are necessary to make the world go round. Businesses are discovering it, governments are waking up to it. The church cannot afford to waste time in developing our young girls and women for the advancement of the kingdom cause!

In my next blog (part 2), I will briefly address some of the Biblical basis for the equality of men and women.

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I’ve noticed people throw around the word “tolerance” and “intolerance” quite often without first examining the implications and origins of such words. The recent news about Chick-fil-A and their stance against homosexual marriages brings this idea of tolerance to the forefront of our minds.

When I attended Christian school, I remember tolerance being one of the character traits we studied in fourth grade. What I learned is that basically tolerance is the ability to have patience or forbearance with someone who may be acting inappropriately or ignorantly. True tolerance is often shown by what we do with our children when they act inappropriately or ignorantly. The idea is that those of us who are more educated, enlightened or mature should also be able to condescend and extend grace to others who are not so educated, enlightened or mature. This makes a lot of sense because we prove our maturity by how we handle people who are acting inappropriately. So many have redefined tolerance as a a way to escape from objective truth, but true tolerance presupposes the idea that there is objective truth. We have to have something to tolerate for tolerance to occur.

The purpose of tolerance for Christ-followers is to become the salt of the earth. Our actions should portray the enduring love of our God. We should seek to first listen, then speak. We should attempt to gain a true understanding of our fellow man, not to condemn, but to help ourselves and others to discover objective truth so that it can set them free. We should not major on the minors, but allow others the right to their opinions. People are sinful and they are confused. Such is the state of all of us from time to time. That is why we need tolerance. When I think of the debate about gay rights, this idea comes to bear. Yes, we do need to be tolerant of people who practice this lifestyle. Without true tolerance, we will never build bridges– we will never cause them to see the error that we believe exists in their lives. Without true tolerance, we only strengthen the perceived walls that exist between us. The burden of tolerance is always on the one who lives closest to the truth.

So how can our attempts at tolerance turn into an escape from truth? As Christians, we are called to be both salt and light. I like to look at “saltiness” as our level of tolerance for people who are less acquainted with the truth. If the salt loses its saltiness, if we treat others with a lack of grace or attempt to understand, it is nearly impossible to get that saltiness back. However, we also need to be light. If we try to be salt without being light, we will end up “preserving” people, preserving them in the poison of their sin. The light exposes error. It protects innocent parties. It does not roll over and play dead. In exposing sin or deception, it prevents people from walking the same deadly path. By pointing out error, we have both a right and an obligation to save lives. We all have a responsibility to act this way according to our convictions. Now, of course, we may be right or wrong in our convictions, that is for a Higher Power to ultimately decide.

I was talking to a friend of mine one time who believed, according to her convictions, that I was headed for hell. What bothered me more than her strange set of beliefs was the fact that she did not seem to be concerned at all for my eternal salvation even though she believed I was headed down a path of destruction.

For those of you who do not believe that homosexuality (or any other form of aberrant sexual conduct) is a sin, please show tolerance to those of us who do. You’ve got to respect us for speaking out, for caring about you. It’s not that most of us think gay marriage will ruin our own marriages; it’s just that we do not support your lifestyle because we believe it is hurting you. For those of us whose convictions do stand against this lifestyle, do not lose your saltiness and do not lose your light. If the salt loses its saltiness, it is good for nothing. If we lose our saltiness, our light may be lost as well.

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Can men and women really sustain meaningful, but unromantic, friendships?

This is a complex cultural question that has evolved quite a bit over the years. I used to answer this question with an abrupt, “no.” My experience told me that each time I attempted this, something went awry. But as we know, experience can be a contradictory teacher. When I intellectually consider this question, it brings to mind a number of quasi-cultural questions of morality such as, “Can people drink alcohol without getting drunk?” For an alcoholic, the answer may be no. For others the answer may be yes. I believe that some people are able to handle such relationships, keeping in mind that we are all capable of stumbling in any way.

It used to be that women were not as educated as men and that they did not hold similar occupations. There used to be very little reason for men and women to interact because their positions were not shared or equal. Things are quite different now. Women are now more likely to hold college degrees and have just as much access to knowledge and expertise as men. They are able to hold more and more positions of authority. Therefore, friendships between men and women become not only more and more acceptable, but more and more necessary. They become necessary for team building, for healthy communication, and for personal emotional stability.

As usual, the church as a whole can be reluctant to change longstanding cultural traditions that say we should not develop opposite sex friendships. People who develop healthy platonic friendships can be accused of having wrong motives or engaging in questionable activity.

I think that much of our fears stem from the way we are taught by our culture to engage in relationship with members of the opposite sex. From the time kids are young, they are conditioned to become preoccupied with finding a mate. Subtle and not so subtle media messages reinforce the idea that the main reason to hang with someone of the opposite sex is to find out whether or not we are “in love.” We have not been taught how to treat our brothers and sisters, which make up the majority of our real, everyday relationships. Yes, we know we are supposed to love them, but just how? Are we supposed to love them in an ethereal general sense, like I love all the people of the world? Love has to work in a real, everyday sense, or it’s just a concept. It has to play out in the real world with real people we know. This is why, for many of us, we fight an uphill battle of the pre-programming of our culture to consider something like this.

Our culture can make such a big deal of our sexual urges that people build their entire lives around them. Just because they find themselves attracted to someone sexually, even for a moment, so many people treat that feeling like the holy grail. They immediately think, “I guess I must be in love.” Or a person has such a feeling for someone of the same sex and suddenly conclude, “I must be homosexual.” We get all freaked out about our own physiology. It’s as ludicrous as thinking, “Man, my head hurts and I have no idea why. I guess I may as well put a bullet in it because it probably won’t go away.” Sexual urges do go away if they are not entertained. Their existence is no license to screw up your life.

On the flip side, we get married on that feeling of attraction and then later in life we say, “I just don’t love you anymore.” That statement is a complete oxymoron. If you really love someone unconditionally, you don’t simply stop loving them. Such statements prove the error in the way we think about romantic relationships. You can choose to love. You can choose to think of someone in romantic way or to think of someone in a friendly way. The emotions come as a result of such choices. Emotions that come as a result of choice are just as real as those that seem to be stumbled upon. It is just that when you love by choice, the choice makes sense. The choice is tempered by wisdom, therefore it stands the test of time. The choice can be made at any point in a relationship and it can transform a relationship.

From the start of any relationship, we can teach ourselves to think more of the needs of the other above our own. That is a great place to start. You cannot engage in lust if you are truly loving another person. As I explained in my blog on passion vs. lust, lust by definition is a selfish activity that begins in the mind. I am treating my spouse in a loving way if I direct my romantic feelings toward him. I am treating a friend in a loving way if I refrain from doing so. Both actions preserve the quality of each type of relationship.

There is no need to fear opposite sex friendships, which can be quite rewarding. However, if you’re going to engage in such relationships, you must make some choices. You and your friend must have a clear mutual understanding of the nature of your relationship. It cannot work if the waters are muddy in this regard. Safeguards and guidelines may be necessary. Each person and relationship will be different.

I am not saying that male/female friendships are always a necessity. Generations and cultures have got along fine without them. But I do know that that male/female friendships do exist in heaven as they do on earth. We may as well attempt to learn to love well while we’re doing time on earth. Maybe the question we will ask in heaven is not, “Can we be friends?” but, “Why couldn’t we?” Anything we do from a heart of unconditional love, regardless of gender, is something that will count forever.

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I’m not always a big fan of romantic comedies, but when I first watched “Runaway Bride” in my college days, it really spoke to me, believe it or not. Here was Julia Robert’s character dating man after man, seeming to have a great time, getting engaged to one after another. She kind of loses herself, trying to be whomever she needs to be to fit into these men’s worlds, so much so that she doesn’t even know how she really likes her eggs. But then when the time comes to walking down that isle, she can’t take it, something inside makes her run, literally run the other way. She becomes known as the “Runaway Bride.” Soon a New York reporter, Richard Gere, comes to do a story on her, essentially to mock her. This reporter character is an unhappy divorced man who has a thing or two to learn from his interactions with the Runaway Bride. Friends with his ex-wife and former boss, he asks this ex what really happened, what went wrong in their relationship. He preempts her response by saying, “Is it that I just didn’t see you?” She responds in the affirmative and they have a little healing moment. With his new revelation, he goes on to win the heart of Julia Roberts just by “seeing her” for who she truly is.

So many of us know what it is like to not be “seen” for who we truly are. We become so accustomed to it that we don’t even see ourselves. We are not necessarily being mean, we just lack eyes to see someone. And this kind of behavior is not limited to the romantic realm. When I think about any relationships in my life, the relationships that are most valuable to me are those in which we have really “seen” each other. We have called out hidden value in one another. The most precious relationships are those in which we do not try to fit people into the mold of what would be most advantageous to us, but we see them distinctly for who they are.

I read The Final Quest by Rick Joiner many years ago. He talks about meeting individuals in heaven. One woman he met was so glorious that he would have been tempted to worship her had not she stopped him. He did not recognize her as someone he had known on earth. We are eternal beings, we are truly glorious inside, whether that glory has been marred by sin or not, I believe that God sees us in our state of glory all the time. The Creator sees what he intended, not only what we see. To the degree that we are able to see people in their glory is the degree that we truly enter into agape love.

I don’t know about you, but I want more of my relationships to be like that. I want to be seen for who I am and to see others too. So, what does this look like? To me, it looks like listening– sorting out what people are really saying beneath the surface. Like I mentioned before, we have a hard enough time seeing ourselves, let alone seeing others. True friends help each other see themselves. They find nuggets of gold beneath the surface, examine them, refine them and then throw them back to the person all nice and shiny. They do this in the form of words, words that speak from the heart of God. Sometimes it’s hard to put it into words, but we try. When someone tries to hold up a handful of dirt and say, “This is me,” true friends dump the dirt and pull out the gold and say, “Nah, I think this is more like you.”

It’s really hard to see others when we don’t see ourselves. Our own search for significance makes us too preoccupied. So, on some level, I have to get it settled in my mind about who I am. I have to know that I am loved. I have to know that I have a place at the table. If I don’t, how can I invite others there?

Even in simple conversations, we are longing to be “seen.” We put out little flags that say, “Here’s a hint to who I am. Did anyone catch that?” Sometimes we put up dark flags as a cry for help. We speak lies about who we believe ourselves to be just to see if anyone corrects us, to see if anyone sees something else.

The gift of relationships that truly “see” are impossible to price. They last for eternity. They happen when the eternal man in one person speaks to the eternal man in another. This is why these relationships last the test of time. When we step into eternity, all the dross and dirt from the lies of who we are not fade away and only what is true remains. Therefore, the ones who have noticed the eternal will remain in the forefront of our minds. Try really “seeing” someone today. Even if you don’t fully get there, the act of trying is often sufficient. The effort you expend today may even be echoed in eternity.

Picture two high school girls sitting in Spanish class. One girl I’ll call “norm girl.” From the outside, she represented a normal high school girl, not too rich, not too poor, overall friendly and well liked. The second girl was “goth girl” she usually wore all black and smiled very little. She came halfway through the year and didn’t know anybody, and the look on her face said she did not want to know anybody. These girls, virtual strangers, were partnered together in class to practice Spanish. The exercise was to describe the other person using Spanish words. The goth girl described the other as having brown hair. The normal girl didn’t know many Spanish words and goth girl had already taken the easy descriptor of “brown hair.” So norm girl described goth girl as “simpatico.” She did not personally have any knowledge that the goth girl was “simpatico,” or “nice,” but she figured she could not go wrong with that descriptor. She certainly did not want to get goth girl on her bad side. Surprisingly, goth girl grew a smile from ear to ear that norm girl never knew she possessed. In fact, from then on goth girl seemed to acknowledge norm girl in a “simpatico” way.

Here is one case in which a new level of understanding trumped prejudice, or preconceived notions about a person. How does this happen? And how can we make it happen more often?

Lately, I’ve been interested in bridging gaps between disparate groups of people. I have become more and more aware of those in our society who are at at unfair societal bias: racial minorities, women, children, the elderly, even perhaps introverts or people with big noses.

I have experience in only one of the aforementioned categories, so I’ll admit, my knowledge is limited. However, if we were honest we’d all concede that there are things about each of us which cause us to have an unfair advantage or disadvantage at one time or another. In fact, there are several factors which tend to thrust us into one category or another– superficial categories that make no sense and serve no purpose.

Since we all experience certain biases directed toward us and, at times, emanating from us, here are some questions can we ask ourselves in an effort to curb the tide of discrimination.

What assumptions am I making about this person that may or may not be true? Here are some examples of assumptions. We know that assumptions can be positive or negative, but they often exist while we remain unaware.

– Assuming that a man is the primary breadwinner of the home.
– Assuming that an overweight person is undisciplined.
– Assuming that a conservative is closed minded and bigoted.

2. In what ways am I blind or unsympathetic to the challenges this particular person or group may face? As human beings, we must acknowledge that we have blind spots, lapses in judgement, or a limited understanding of the full picture. Here are some examples of an inherent lack of empathy.

– A man may underestimate the difficulties a woman faces in the corporate world.
– A very attractive person may underestimate the difficulties of someone with a more humble appearance.
– A middle class person may lack empathy for someone who is on the street.

3. In what way(s) can I communicate to this individual that I desire to bridge the gap of normal, everyday prejudice?

You see, we become so accustomed to one type of prejudice or another, that we are surprised when we find proof that the normal dose of it is absent. There are overweight people who expect skinny people to avoid them. There are poor people that do not anticipate rich people to seek their friendships. There are women who do not expect a man to treat them as a true peer. Goth girl, for example, had an expectation that she would either be rejected or not fully accepted by anyone, let alone norm girl.

In order to change our current societal norms, we need to make a conscious effort to go out of our way to defy them. We cannot do this in a superficial way. I’m not saying we should go seek out friendships with people who are minorities just so we can feel we are morally superior. By contrast, we must be aware of the biases that we already hold and then make a sincere effort to intentionally self-correct.

I grew up in Los Angeles where there was a large minority population and I was fairly used to it, so I thought I had very little problem with diversity. When I moved to Missouri, I had to figure out a strange new diverse population… The world of cowboys. The first time I saw a real belt-buckled, ten-gallon hat wearing cowboy, I had to do a double take. I thought they only existed in the movies, certainly not in a public high school! I had no idea what it was like to live the cowboy lifestyle, nor had I any interest or empathy for the life of a cowboy or cowgirl.

By the time I got to college, a surprising thing happened to me. A real live cowboy reached out to me. I was at a formal dance by myself. I don’t even remember if I was dating anyone at the time, but my relationships had been complicated. All I was interested in was having a nice time. I was tired of the complications of guys expecting more from me or the weight of a heavy relationship. I just wanted a little respect and to be treated like a lady. At a more immature state of my life, I may have rejected a dance with this cowboy, but in this instance, I bravely decided to give it a try. Me, a city girl who was inspired by graffiti art and smog sunsets with a young man who found all his inspiration in the midst of cow patties and horse tails. He danced with me in such a gentlemanly way that I was not expecting. He conversed with me and gave me an opportunity to understand his perspective, a perspective which I had not shared. It was a perspective about his view of the world and how it fit perfectly with the life of a cowboy. It was fascinating. That evening, cowboys were no longer strange to me. I wasn’t about to get married to the guy, but I appreciated the way he chose to live his life.

You see, whether it’s goth girl and norm girl, city girl and cowboy, Chinese and African, or elderly and teenager, we all have the opportunity to respond to an open door. And we all have opportunities to open the door if we are looking for one. Hopefully these opportunities will not need to be forced upon us, as in a Spanish class. Hopefully we can learn to be mindful of them and extend our hands in small ways and perhaps surprise one another in the process.

What opportunities might you have to reach across societal norms?

Ladies, you ever feel like you’re hitting a brick wall when it comes to achieving something with men, or even maintaining positive relationships with them? As a women myself, I thought I should speak to what I know first, my own gender. Intelligent men, you may want to listen in to gain insight for your relationships as well. Just as slavery or polygamy used to be a normal part of life in times of old, imbedded into the culture of the day, so are some of our attitudes about gender. Positive or negative, these attitudes affect us in a major way. Studies have shown that societies where poverty and crime is rampant, so women are treated unfairly and oftentimes, abusively.

Most of those who are reading this are not living on the streets under such conditions, but sometimes our attitudes contribute to this kind of slippery slope. Regardless of what you believe about women’s roles in any strata of society, let’s take another look at the behaviors of women in the church, in business, and in our everyday interactions with men. We have to understand that men are not the only ones who contribute to unjust conditions for women. What about our part, ladies? Are we part of the problem or part of the solution?

Here are 5 habits I believe, can greatly improve our relationships with men:

1. Refuse to engage in male bashing. Ok, I know that some of you are kind of like, “duh.” It is not hard to understand that if we want to be treated with respect, we have to respect the male species. However, male bashing has become so common that it is a pretty socially acceptable practice. How do you know if you’re male bashing? If you lump all males into one category and make a blanket statement that clearly does not apply to all males. Having fun laughing with men about male issues is not a problem, but if it hurts, please stop this destructive habit. The men in your life may not act like they care, but they do.

2. Do not avoid talking to men. I have encountered this strange attitude firsthand and have to work to constantly to correct myself. Why do we shy away from one another? Men do it to women, and women do it to men, usually without even realizing it. I think it basically comes from fear. We, especially Christians, fear that a conversation with a person of the opposite sex will lead to a physical attraction of some type or that we will be leading someone on. It is true that the more sexually perverted the culture is, the more this will naturally remain a fear. But among brothers and sisters in Christ, we should be the ones who stand out, able to have relationships of all kinds– healthy ones, as we model these to the onlooking world. We have to mature in our marital relationships to the point that we are not paranoid of an imminent affair, but that we can share openly about all our relationships with people. I’m not saying we don’t need any safeguards. What I am saying is that fear can keep us from some very healthy and helpful relationships. And for us women, fear can keep us from having a positive effect on the men in our lives.

3. Do not shrink back from disagreeing with a man. Now, I realize that some of you have no problem with this. Some of you may need to just simmer down a little bit. But many women struggle with feeling free to communicate their opinions in a way that is strong, but not defensive. Many women tend to ask a question when it is in their heart to make a statement. Their home culture may have taught them that their voice is small, weak, or even insignificant. You may not have a booming voice or a commanding presence, but your thoughts are important. Your viewpoint is worth being considered. Refuse to believe the lie that you don’t count. Learn to be comfortable with your own unique voice, whether others agree or not, you owe it to everyone to be fully you.

4. Learn how to communicate honestly with your spouse. The first and closest relationship ever invented, between a husband and wife, is where our culture truly begins. If we cannot learn respect, honesty, and mutual submission in the home, we will find ourselves unable to extend it to anyone else. Is your spouse uncomfortable with you talking to someone of the opposite sex or listening to your opinions? Talk about it, find out some of the underlying causes. Get counseling if necessary. This relationship is of prime importance.

5. Relax. Sometimes we need to just remember that men are human too. We all have things we just don’t get about the opposite sex. We all have our own, individual, funny little idiosyncrasies. We also have similar experiences as members of the human race. If we look a little deeper, we will find that we have more in common with men than we thought at first glance. If we can all remind ourselves that we are humans with weaknesses, blindnesses, and mistakes, it will make for a better world as a whole.

Our culture has put a huge emphasis on romantic relationships with the opposite gender. We have tended to neglect the other myriad of types of mixed relationships that can occur: mother/son, dad/daughter, employer/employee, peer/peer, brother/sister, etc. Christ followers, let’s not allow the world set the bar for us on these other important relationships. Let it be said of us, “We recognize them by their love.”

Thoughts, opinions? I’d love to hear regardless of your gender!

As you begin to dream, you increase your ability to dream bigger, in concentric circles. It is important that you can dream on all levels. We need to have a dream for our own character, but we also need to have a dream for our families, our workplaces, our regions, and our world. Check out these levels of purpose and see whether or not you are stuck in each one.

Levels of Purpose

1. Purposes that affect only me.

2. Purposes that affect only me and my closest loved ones.

3. Purposes that affect my church or workplace.

4. Purposes that affect my community or field of expertise.

5. Purposes that affect my region, my country, and my world.

(You can either grow your influence geographically or based on the value you bring to a specific niche of people, or a combination of both.)

As you can see, when your dreams or purposes get bigger, the burden is on God to increase your realm of favor and influence. We need to have dreams that begin with ourselves. God cares about our own personal desires, but we also need to challenge ourselves to broaden our sights to the world around us. If we have eyes to see only ourselves, we will be stuck with vision that is too small for the destiny God intends.

Some ministries, like the people that lead them, tend to operate from a poverty mindset. This is a mindset in which there is only a fixed amount to go around for everyone. It results in the inability of leaders to build bridges from one ministry to another. So they fight and grab, infringing on the territory of another ministry. Leaders with a wealthy mindset do not feel the need to mark off their territory or keep their distance from others. They know that there are plenty of people and resources to go around. They have confidence in God’s ability to provide for them. Like Abraham who said to Lot, “you pick your first choice of the land,” was confident in God’s ability to protect his promise. No amount of human politicking or hoarding makes any difference when the king of the universe is on your side.

Here are some first steps toward vision sharing:

1. Find a vision to support that is bigger than yours.

2. Find individuals who share aspects of your vision and begin meaningful conversations with them. Invite them into your life and allow them input into your ministry. (I believe it is important to do this with people who are near to you geographically as well as those who are near to you in interests or philosophy.)

3. Find ways to use your influence to support the dreams of another. You can do this in many ways from social media to your conversations with others. Don’t waste your time tearing down the things that bother you. Rather, spend time building up the things you want to promote.

4. Practice 360 degree leadership (Courageous Leadership, Hybels). Extend your influence in all directions, leading yourself, leading your peers, leading subordinates, and leading your leaders.

5. Model good habits of collaboration: within your ministry, ministry to ministry, and ministry within ministry.

In your journey, you will encounter the following types of people.

1. People who will challenge your vision. Byron Easterling, in his book “Dream Big, Dream Often,” likes to call these people “black holes.” I have also referred to them as “passion suckers.” They always point out the negative and cannot get behind your vision or encourage it in any way. To hang out with these people on a regular basis would not be healthy. However, you can learn some of your weaknesses and blind spots from these people. So don’t ignore them, but be sure not to let them drain you of the energy you have to execute the vision God has implanted in you.

2. People who will fully support you and your vision. You must love these people and treat them with the highest respect. They are a gift of God to you, evidence of the favor of God on you. Listen to them, value them, give them what they need to make serving your vision a delight.

3. People who will ignite the spark of vision within you. People like this have a high level of excitement and are most likely going after their own dreams with gusto. Get around these people as much as possible and let their positivity rub off on you!

4. People who will give you invaluable input. These people have wisdom to help you see around the corners. They may have specialized knowledge in a specific field. They may be able to help you with fresh ideas or innovative strategies to getting around obstacles.

5. People who will share some aspect of your vision and lend strength to an aspect of your vision. These people will have valuable input, but who will also be more heavily invested in enacting your vision. Pay special attention to these people. Know them and their strengths well. Teach them to value each other and you will have a great team!

6. People who will help you to broaden your vision. There are visionaries out there who have learned to expand their minds beyond the borders of what you are able to see. Try to glean something from leaders like this. Even if the closest you can get to such a leader is by reading his or her book, take all that you can from them and allow them to challenge you to keep expanding your vision casting paradigms.

The more we wrestle through issues together, the more we talk and confer with one another, the more we allow others influence in our ministries, the better we are able to come together in unity and accomplish a worthy mission. We have to not fear conflict or change. We come together as powerful carriers of vision. Treat others as power carriers, as the royalty that they are. In this environment, we never need to force someone to get in line with our authority. Rather, we win the right to speak into people. We win the right to collaborate and affect the ministries of others. We grow in our ability to lead in all directions, 360 degrees.

Have you shared your vision with others? Have you begun to develop your Passion Community? Covenant with at least one person to invest in their vision as they invest in yours through prayer, through commitment, through friendship and through the support of one another’s gifts.

I am old enough to remember when the “world wide web” was new. With every new technological advance, people have their concerns. Especially people of the previous generation. I remember listening to their concerns about the fact that social networking sites were letting everyone in on your personal life. As it stands today, little by little, people seem to be less and less concerned with privacy. As a society, we are more transparent than ever. We are letting casual acquaintances in on our daily musings. We are seeking to hear the random thoughts of people who are complete strangers.

I know that there is a wrong way to do this. You know how it is… sometimes our thoughts are not appropriate and do not build anyone up. Sometimes we are just figuratively hurling our dirty laundry out for everyone to see. That does not build people up. “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up, that it may benefit those who listen.” That it may benefit those who listen. That it may benefit those who listen. If we’re honest, sometimes we’re only thinking of how it will benefit ourselves. If we’re extremely honest, it’s debatable whether our words benefit anyone at all.

Before you think this article is about simply zipping up your big trap, read on. If you are a believer, you just might have something good to say– something that will indeed benefit those who listen. You just might have a story worth telling. You just might have some wisdom worth sharing. You may be tempted to preach your message from an ethereal cloud or by copying someone else’s words, never letting anyone in on words and stories of your own. You might be tempted to shrink back from telling the truth because some of your friends might reject you. Well, some may. However, there is something you need to understand about our world right now. If you are the right kind of transparent, you will get noticed. Some may disagree, but you might actually get what you didn’t anticipate. You might actually get respect. You might actually get a few people to listen to what you have to say. You might really help people. If you are really bold, maybe even more than just a few.

Let me tell you what I mean by the right kind of transparency. The right kind of transparency shares both failures and victories. The right kind of transparency tailors its language to the audience, never speaking over people’s heads. The right kind of transparency involves humor. The kind of transparency is being bold enough to say things that others only wish they could say, asking the questions others only wish they had the courage to ask. The right kind of transparency risks rejection from others that the truth might sink in to some. I think we forget sometimes that the preachers of old prayed constantly for boldness. They begged others to pray boldness into them. Preachers of today may not need to use street corners. They have all different methods and styles. They may use pulpits, or maybe even water coolers. But they still need a holy boldness. You may not think of yourself as a preacher, but you are. If you participate in social networking, blogging, or any such form of communication you are preaching a message to who knows how many at any given moment?

Lemme tell you, boldness is not for the faint hearted. I will take this opportunity to show you some transparency. A while back, a friend of mine encouraged me to start blogging. It was a real struggle for me to think that the thoughts I had were valid enough to share with mere acquaintances, let alone with strangers. Every time I decide to post, I hesitate for a moment, talking myself into taking the leap of faith. You see, ever since I was very young, I felt I had a bold message to share in the body of a frail and fairly quiet little girl. My insides seemed to be at war with my exterior image. But now, every time I exercise my boldness to share what is on my mind, every time I risk rejection, I believe I get closer and closer to who God wants me to be.

Paul tells Timothy to encourage the timid. Maybe that’s what I’m doing for you. If you, like me, have been timid in any way, please stop. Please step out and do something bold. Don’t over think it. Be authentically transparent. Show the world the treasure that is in you and hide it no more! I, for one, can’t wait to see! 🙂

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