Category: Relationships

Wenceslas, Stephen, Boxing Day, and Gift Returns

What do a Czech duke from the 10th century, the first Christian martyr, a British public holiday, and a crazy rush to return unwanted gifts to the store… have in common?

They all happen on the day after Christmas!

  • Known for his unusual charitable lifestyle as a wealthy man, “Good King” Wenceslas went outside on an unbearably cold day to bless a poor man on December 26… at least that’s what the Christmas carol reports!
  • Stephen was the first Christ-follower to lose his life for preaching the gospel of salvation. Celebrated in many countries and church traditions with a variety of customs, the feast of St. Stephen falls on December 26.
  • Boxing Day in the United Kingdom is a public holiday with roots in the 17th century. Servants and tradesmen required to work on Christmas for nobility were given the day off on December 26, often with a “Christmas box” of cash and small gifts.
  • And then December 26 is that day when America heads to the stores (or the Post Office) to return or exchange gifts… unwanted or duplicated Christmas gifts! With thousands headed out to stand in long lines, the retail success of the day hinges on how early the store opens and how deeply the after-Christmas sales slash prices.

Four streams of tradition flowing on one day, together drawing attention to the capacity of the human heart to give and to receive… to sacrifice or to be self-absorbed. What makes the difference?

Or better, WHO makes the difference?

That man or woman who hears about Jesus, then meets Jesus, and then follows Jesus by faith… that one has a different heart… a heart that beats in union with His heart.

December 26 is no ordinary day… but it should be. There’s nothing wrong with returning a gift. But as you make contact with others today, thank God you have a gift to return… and gifts still to give.

  • The gift of a smile.
  • The gift of a kind word.
  • The gift of a patient manner.
  • The gift of encouragement to a harried worker, who has to serve you today.

It may be the day after Christmas, but His birth was not the end of His mission. It was just the beginning. He not only came to inhabit our world.

He came to inhabit you.

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. . . If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” ~ Galatians 5:22-23, 25

Relationships Matter

audience-828584_960_720A pastor challenged me recently on whether it was true that new churches tended to engage more unchurched people than did older, established churches. In a study published two months ago, in fact, nearly half of the people attending new churches were non-attenders in the past.

What was the most common pathway into the church? Relationships.

Of course if the gospel and the transformation He brings are not central to what is happening, then nothing else the church does matters. But if the church forgets why they exist, the gospel rarely gets shared. In new churches and Bible study groups, most of the members understand that reaching out and welcoming new people is part of their “job description.”

Research is no substitute for the truth of God’s Word, but it is important for church leaders to discern their circumstances (Prov. 25:2). Here’s the most recent research that supports the value of starting new groups and churches (or helping established churches rethink why they exist)…

New Churches Draw Those Who Previously Didn’t Attend

On Using Social Media (Part 2): 6 Essential Facebook Social Skills that Promote Relationships

iStock_000015985231XSmallSocial media is evolving, but it’s not disappearing. I heard a comedian announce a future merger between YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook to create a new social media: YouTwitFace. Mmm… I hope not!

The changes are profound. Whether I like it or not, people are using social media to make personal anouncements and plan meetings. They are marketing their businesses and themselves. They are expressing their griefs and trumpeting their happiest moments. And much of it is happening in real time. Right now.

In my previous post, I voiced my position that social media is simply an alternative form of communication and a way of doing relationships. I also shared some “don’ts” for interacting with others on Facebook. In this piece, let me offer some more rough notes describing the “dos” of digital interactions with real people: six social skills that promote relationships through Facebook.

  1. Listen
    • Read widely – what others are doing and saying (many different friends).
    • Read in-depth (previous posts on a friend’s wall) – I am calling it “social browsing.”
  2. Gain the Other Perspective
    • Empathy – Exercise compassion and awareness of the other person
    • Harder to do online – clearly, easier to do in person.
  3. Identify and Meet Needs
    • Ask sensitive/personal questions privately via a message vs. posting on the wall
    • Commit to pray (and really do it), then follow-up with a call or visit.
  4. Give Affirmation
    • “like” = a form of affirmation, agreement, or praise.
    • People need encouragement more than they need your correction.
    • Don’t give your opinions and answers if someone isn’t asking for them.
  5. Filter Yourself
    • Read before you post – gauge your words and change them as needed.
    • “In my opinion” or “have you considered” is better than an absolute statement.
  6. Let Friends “In” to Your World
    • Share your passion.
    • Trust is cultivated through intimacy – people feel like they know you through your posts.
    • Your posts can trigger a ministry or work-related interaction.

For example… you can post:

  • What I am doing or who I am with.
  • Something I am thinking or learning.
  • Quotes, trivia, or facts.
  • Humorous events or observations.
  • How your work is making a difference.
  • Promoting a work-related message or resource.

Social media is here to stay. Get involved. Learn. Listen. Share. But above all, honor Him in your relationships whether online or offline.

On Using Social Media (Part 1): 7 Ways to Damage Relationships through Facebook

My original title for this blog was:iStock_000021915163XSmall

using facebook to do relationships, tell your story, promote your passion–and to do it without being obnoxious and without falling into narcissism… or getting fired…
or something like that. :-)

But I decided that was a little long. Plus, Facebook is not the only channel in the social media world… but I use it most. I also use Twitter. I opened a Pinterest account about a year ago, but I didn’t “get” it. I tried Instagram… once. So, if my remarks seem to favor Facebook users, I would suggest that the principles apply to most social media.

Social media is here to stay, although it will morph and change every 1-2 years. Facebook and Twitter will likely give way to something else… in fact, it probably has and I just don’t know it yet! But the idea of doing relationships through technology — well, that is not going to go away.

You have always had different kinds of friends: best friends, school friends, hobby friends, work friends, church friends, new friends, and secular, irreligious friends. How do you interact with them now? Social media gives you the opportunity to “touch” more people, more often, and in many more ways. The interaction does not have to be less meaningful or less personal… that depends on you.

Social media should reflect who you are and what is important to you. It can be a narcissistic pursuit. It can be a way of dishonestly representing yourself to others. It can be a way of being “mean” (thank you Taylor Swift). If that’s how you are in real life, it will show up in social media. You can’t hide what’s in your heart.

But it can also be a way of doing ministry. Social media can be a vehicle for expressing genuine care and concern — it is not “less” because it is a digital note instead of a handwritten note (I still do both). I find ample opportunities to discuss matters of faith. I love Jesus… I am a Christ follower. By being online and available, some friends feel “safe” and, consequently, they are more willing to discuss spiritual things and pose long-held questions about faith.

Okay… enough of my philosophical musings. In this post, I want to share some rough, incomplete notes on the “don’ts” of social media. In the next piece, I’ll share some “dos.” So, here you go: seven ways to damage relationships through Facebook.

  1. Ignore Normal Social Boundaries
    • TMI – too much information about your personal life (boundaries are healthy).
    • Personal travel announcements (also known as an invitation to a burglary).
    • Politeness and consideration still count.
  2. Become an Annoying Advocate
    • Posting for Amway or some other pyramid scheme.
    • Playing games at work or bugging friends with unwanted game posts (e.g., mafia farm etc.).
    • Do you have an Aunt who posts 14 pictures of Jesus every day? Don’t do that!
    • Post too many updates (and no one is commenting or “liking”). No one.
  3. Express Yourself without Regard for Other Views
    • Bully pulpit.
    • Political or theological diatribes.
    • Inappropriate comments (esp. about the boss).
    • Bad language.
  4. Comment on Everything
    • It is not necessary to register your thoughts on every post. Seriously.
    • Be obnoxious (it can get you “de-friended” or reported).
  5. Ignore Context
    • Seek first to understand before you write anything in response.
    • Making a point in print is not the same as saying it in person – partial information (no facial expressions, no context, no sound/inflection etc) requires better written communication.
    • Words are delivered without a context – social media requires you to create a context and to understand the context/conversation you are entering into.
  6. Reacting Instead of Reflecting
    • Don’t write the first thing that comes to mind.
    • Emotional responses will almost always get you in trouble.
  7. Use Unguarded or Crude Humor
    • Children get away with saying things that adults cannot.
    • Children can be cute – you cannot.
    • When people read your words, they are reaching conclusions about who you are.

Next post: On Using Social Media (Part 2): 6 Essential Facebook Social Skills that Promote Relationships.

The church needs more attitude…

Romans 12:16 Be of the same mind toward one another…

Romans 15:5 Now may the God of patience and comfort grant you to be like-minded toward one another, according to Christ Jesus…

It happens more and more. My wife and I will turn to each other with the same thoughts — and often the same words on our lips — at the same time! After years of loving together we often can anticipate what the other is thinking or feeling.

Did you know church is to be like that? As we come together for a common purpose to exalt Christ in our lives, we will find ourselves experiencing a oneness of thought and mission. We should work at achieving oneness (Romans 12:16), but Paul later adds that we should ask God to give us a sameness of mind (Romans 15:5). So we should work for unity — but we should also ask for it in prayer.

Then where do church conflicts come from? Pride. And pride is a state of mind that flourishes in a climate of putting down the ideas of others and exalting our views.

Can we disagree and still “be of the same mind”? Yes, but only if we assume a fundamental respect for the motives of others who — like us — belong to the family of God. Our oneness lies in a common motive to please God — not in agreement on every issue or scruple.

So how can we be “of the same mind” towards one another? Assume an attitude that every other believer has equal access to God — just like you. Therefore, their thoughts are as potentially inspired and significant as your own. No one has a corner on the market of “divine insights”. I must humble myself to consider with care the thoughts of my brother. I need to listen. I need to pay attention. What he is thinking may match or enhance what I am thinking — I need to respect his conclusions and rationale.

“The same mind” does not refer to agreement in all things, but to an attitude.

Thanking a Father in the Lord

Six years ago I had the privilege of joining other ministerial alumni of Blue Mountain College ( in honoring Dr. James Travis. Retired after teaching for 36 years, Dr. Travis influenced several generations of young pastors through his faithful, enthusiastic friendship and instruction. He was the first mentor many of us had in ministry. In my own life, Dr. Travis…

  • * encouraged me to make a firm, clear commitment to the ministry;
  • * sent me out on my first preaching assignment to a little church in north Mississippi;
  • * recommended me for my first staff position in a church;
  • * taught me (and many others) how to perform a baptism;
  • * preached at my ordination; and
  • * helped me settle into my first pastorate.

What he did for me was not special–he helped hundreds of young people get on their feet, get back on their feet, and stay on their feet during critical times in their lives.

I had someone take my picture with Dr. Travis during my visit to the campus. But for as long as I have been in ministry, he has been “in the picture.”

Dr. Travis passed away in 2005. I didn’t have an unlimited amount of time to tell him what he meant to me.

Paul was right when he said we do not have many “fathers” in the Lord. I have been fortunate to have had several over the years. Saying “thank you” to those men has become increasingly important to me as they age and as I realize the impact they had on me.

The Power of a Greeting

Romans 16:16 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Corinthians 16:20 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
2 Corinthians 13:12 Greet one another with a holy kiss.
1 Thessalonians 5:26 Greet all the brethren with a holy kiss.
1 Peter 5:14 Greet one another with a kiss of love.

Do you remember your first kiss? Sure you do! What makes it so special? What is it about a kiss that so captures the imagination and heart of our culture?

Let me suggest that with a kiss we are communicating our affection and acceptance of another person. Intimacy. Warmth. With just a kiss.

Every culture has a way of doing that, but we have done it for centuries with a kiss. Two millennia have not altered the basic message. Paul wants us to greet one another with the highest form of affection.

How can we do this today?

(1) Determine to take every instance of greeting seriously – Paul is really issuing a command to obey. Greeting one another is a non-optional activity. So we ought to carefully reflect on how we normally greet others. We should avoid simple protocol greetings when possible — let’s get real!

(2) Take the focus off yourself and place it on the other person – Think about the kind of recognition you would want to receive. Think about the times when a poor greeting was hurtful to you.

(3) Learn and use a person’s name in your greeting – Think of the other person as family. Knowing and using a name is a measure of a person’s significance to you. Paul greeted no less than 25 persons by name in Romans 16 in a city he had never visited! Names are vital.

(4) Bless the person with affirmation and interest – “Pause” for the person as you greet them. Acknowledge enduring qualities you appreciate about them. Ask them genuine, probing questions. Introduce them to others with words of affirmation.

(5) And yes – do use an appropriate physical expression of affection – Paul stresses use of the “holy kiss” — please understand that he was referring to greetings between the same sexes! While the function of greeting never changes, but the physical form may vary from culture to culture. Whether it’s a warm handshake and a hug, a squeeze of a shoulder or arm, or a simple pat on the back – we must not offend or tempt others with the physical form of our greeting. But don’t be afraid to display warm affection.

How to “Choose Up Sides” in Church

Romans 15:7 Therefore receive one another, just as Christ also received us, to the glory of God.

It’s happening on playgrounds all around our country today… and it happens in churches too. Groups get ready to choose up sides and someone is chosen last. “Arrrggghhh!” as Charlie Brown used to say — what a terrible feeling to be unwanted and unwelcomed.

Paul says we are to “receive one another” — I do it for you and you do it for me. In the New Testament this means:

  1. to take or receive someone/something to oneself, to admit, or to receive;
  2. to take someone aside for a private conversation; or
  3. to welcome/accept someone as a close friend.

And Paul says I am to do this “as Christ received” me! In Him I find what many spend a lifetime searching for: someone who will “choose me” every time. Someone who treats me like I am His favorite. Someone who does not allow disagreements or barriers to create distance between us. Someone who isn’t preoccupied with himself or his needs — but who has time to listen to me. Someone I do not have to be afraid of. Someone whose motives are genuine — He will not use me and then lose me.

How can I do that for someone else? If Jesus accepts me, I can afford to give to others without expecting a return on my investment. After all, He gave all for me — with no cost to me, but at great cost to Himself. I can set my heart to be like Jesus to others.

  • I can trust that God is at work in every person I encounter. I can look for the hand of God in every heart — that qualifies a person to be treated with care by me. I can place my faith in God’s working, not in people — they will let me down, but if God is at work in them… I think I can be willing to be hurt by those I accept.
  • I can act as if all conditions for intimacy were already fulfilled. I don’t have to make people earn my acceptance or love.
  • I can cover areas of offense or disagreement with love.
  • I can ask questions to know people on the deepest level. I can avoid the superficial encounters.
  • I can take people to others and introduce them — facilitating their acceptance into a group.
  • I can talk about people to others and tell their story.
  • I can be intentional about including others in the ministry of my church by giving them a job to do — so they will gain a sense of belonging.

I suspect most of us feel like the kid on the playground that never gets picked to play. Remember today that Jesus always chooses you — so now you go choose someone else. Go ahead — you’re already on the best team! Make a difference — welcome someone into your life with warmth and affection.

Estimating the Value of a Human Soul

Romans 12:10 Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.

Her words have stayed with me for all of my adult life. I was 18 years old. As a second-time guest at a Bible study, the youth pastor’s wife introduced me to several other kids by saying, “This is Don – he is a really neat guy – you need to get to know him!”

Me? A “really neat guy”?

What she did was esteem me before others. She expressed a value for me that I did not even possess for myself. By introducing me to others as a valuable, worthy person, she used the occasion as an opportunity to exercise love.

She determined my worth and value by the way she talked about me. This is the essence of the word “honor.”

Most of us in the church family are more conscious of our personal “ugliness” than anyone will ever know. We beat ourselves up and often come to church beaten by the world. Should church be a place that adds to our sense of failure and insecurity?

Of course not! Honor someone with value and affirmation today. A kind word and a smile. A hug and a warm embrace. A note or a quick phone call. Any soul Jesus died for was a soul of eternal worth and value to Him. We are not flattering people: we are establishing their true worth in the sight of God.

Why should we value others any less than He did?

The Pastor: The Life of a Door Man

Who gets in? Who gets left out in the cold? The door man decides.
Several years ago, The Los Angeles Times entertainment website unveiled a cover story on the city’s club scene. Profiling door men who screen entry intoexclusive establishments, the article explains that success is attached to what you wear and who you are with (not to mention how much cash you are willing to part with). Over the last twenty years, the profession evolved from leather-clad, biker “security”men into headset-wearing, business suits sporting sunglasses at night. It is not a comfortable job.
Can you imagine doing that? You are on the front lines, rarely getting to enjoy what’s going on inside. You must endure long hours outside in all kinds of weather. You have to deal with people – some who like what you do and others who despise your work.
Kind of like being a pastor isn’t it?
Through our spirit of hospitality we control who gets into our church and who is excluded. (I hope it isn’t based on what someone is wearing!) Through our personal example we impact the guest sensitivity of leaders, teachers, and greeters throughout our church. Through our messages we can either reward or ignore the welcoming behaviors of our members.
The psalmist writes about this experience in Psalm 84:10 (NIV)”Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” The Temple entrance was typically crowded with persons begging alms, often unqualified to enter theTemple due to disease or deformity. It was a lowly job in a lowly place.
The door man was NOT the most sought-after position on the Temple staff.
Yet – one day serving at the doorway to His presence is experientially better than a thousand elsewhere.
See you at the door this Sunday guys!