Risk vs. Reward

 

About twenty years ago Cecelia and I were blessed with Anna Katherine (A.K.), the first of our four grandchildren. Wanting to do something for her and others who might follow, I built a sturdy structure for a swing close to the creek that runs through our property. That swing has witnessed lots of laughs and screams as A.K and the three grandsons have enjoyed it through the years. I think I enjoyed watching them swing as much as they enjoyed using it.

A couple of years ago I realized that the old structure wasn’t seeing much use and decided to bring some enjoyment and laughter back to it. This, I thought, would be a perfect place for an adult swing; a place to relax, to be quiet, and enjoy the babbling of the creek and the beauty of our back yard. It is all of that and more! But there is a risk I take every time I go there to rest or meditate. Bird poop! Let me explain.    

For several weeks I was frustrated that almost every time I wanted to use  the swing I had to be clean off the bird poop. Being the “problem solver” I am I attempted several things to discourage the bird’s lack of consideration, including covering the swing with plastic. The plastic worked but who wants to look at a swing always covered with a poop-smeared sheet of plastic. This called for drastic measures. I decided to construct a spike-board over the swing to stop the birds from landing on the overhead beam; sometimes you have to get serious and take action to mitigate the risk. I’m sure the AAPCA would frown on what I’ve done. This 6 ft. board has 130 nails daring any bird to land there to do their business. ”  

The spike board worked! For several days I visited the swing to reassure myself I had taken the risk out of using the swing. It was clear that the birds were avoiding the spikes! However, a day or so ago I went to enjoy the solitude in the swing to discover a familiar deposit on the swing; bird poop. Wondering how this had happened, I cleaned the area and sat down to relax and meditate. I did not know what was about to hit me. Yep. You guessed it; right on the left thigh of my pale blue pants. It was a long-distance shot from a tree behind my swing.

Well, what am I going to do now? I’m not going to cut the tree and I’m not going to stop using the swing. I’ve weighed the benefit vs. the risk and I think what happened may happen again, maybe one chance in a hundred. I enjoy that swing and a little bird poop is not going to stop me from using it.

Life is risky, isn’t it? Almost everything that is worthwhile involves taking a chance. Marriage, children, friendship, loving someone, driving, flying, investing, sitting in a swing, and many other things come to mind. But what is life worth if you allow yourself to be controlled by the fear of what might happen. We can’t control what is outside our control but we can do what we can to mitigate the risk. Still, there will be “bird poop” or other kinds of stuff we will encounter.

My little story can serve to illustrate some great truths for myself and others who will listen:

  1. Life isn’t supposed to be easy. We can learn what’s really important through the troubles and frustrations God allows to come our way. I don’t learn much when life is easy. We have to weigh the benefit vs. the reward.
  2. With God’s help, we can deal with the challenges of marriage, child-rearing, jobs, investing, friendships, and health issues by absorbing His word and putting it into practice. Don’t give up on what’s really important to you. I like what Psalm 1:1-2 says about those of us who rely on God’s Word to guide us: How blessed is the man who “Delights in the law of the Lord and meditates on His law day and night.”
  3. Life is a faith adventure. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not rely on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will lead you on the right path.” Proverbs 3:5-6.
  4.  Remember the big-picture plan God has for us. God is working in everything to make us more like Jesus. Romans 8:28. We need to adjust our life purpose to align with     His plan.

Thinking About God

 Small god or Big God?

Good God or Mean god?

Weak god or Strong God?

Have you given much thought to how you think about God and the effect that has on your emotions, your outlook on life, and how you live? How do you answer the three sets of questions above?

Why does it matter what you think about God? It matters because your god or God is your ultimate source of authority, what or who matters most in your life. Your values and the way you live are shaped by whatever has authority in your life. Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, (your source of meaning and authority) there will your heart be also.”  He also said, “ Out of the heart come the issues of life….”

Is it possible for a true believer to have a distorted or inadequate view of God? Absolutely. I think it is very likely that you and I and every believer underestimate the God who cares for us and supplies everything we need. Why do I believe this is true?

First, who can fully grasp the glory and magnificence of the Holy One? We are mere mortals dealing with the infinite Reality. We don’t have the capacity to fully grasp the greatness of the God we love and serve. Is this what Isaiah 55:9 is saying? “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways above your ways, and my thoughts above your thoughts.”  

Not only are we finite and limited in our ability to fully grasp the greatness of God, but we are also “fallen” human beings who are tempted to believe wrong ideas about God. Although we are saved because of our trust in Christ and His death and resurrection, the old nature is not completely eradicated. That means we are still capable of sin and distorted ideas about God. We are saved but God continues to save us from our sinful past through the process of sanctification.

Paul has lots to say about the need to think clearly and live purely in his letters to young believers. Romans 12:2 is a good example of this, “Do not conform to this world but be changed by the renewing of your mind.” Change the way you think about God and His purpose for your life. What were they thinking about God that prompted Paul to challenge them to “Present yourselves as a living sacrifice to God”? Romans 12:1.

The third reason I believe Christians are often misguided in our thinking about God is that we have somehow been deceived into believing the devil doesn’t exist. Jesus certainly believed in his existence. Take note of the wilderness temptations in Matthew’s gospel. Was Jesus just imagining the devil was there? Was He hallucinating after forty days and nights in the wilderness? Satan is not dismissed in scripture as some benign imaginary character. He is real, evil, deceitful, and a liar who wants to somehow cast doubt in our minds about the character of God. Peter tells us to think soberly and watch carefully because the devil is like a roaring lion seeking someone to tear apart. 1Peter 5:8.

One of the best and most important things you will ever do for yourself is to get your thinking about the character of God aligned with the life and teaching of Jesus and scripture. Until you commit to the teaching of scripture about who God is your emotional and spiritual life will be plagued by doubt and confusion.

I encourage you to think about what I’ve said. And, think about how you think and feel about God when bad things happen to you. That may give you a hint about the need to change your thinking to align with biblical teaching.     

 

Toxic Thinking

Have you ever known someone whose thinking has been poisoned by the words and actions of others? I’ve known several folks like this. Many of them developed toxic thought patterns about themselves because of verbal abuse by a wounded parent. There is an old saying in Scripture that goes something like this, “The parents have eaten sour grapes and the children’s teeth are set on edge.” Toxic or poisoned thinking is often a generational issue; the grandparent is angry from an unhealed wound, afflicts their child with their bitterness and on and on it can go generation after generation.

 Hopefully, someone down the line will learn to think more healthily and break the destructive pattern. “I want my daughter to grow up thinking much better of herself than I did.” This woman, a successful businessperson, and going through a divorce, had come to see the negative impact her mother’s words had had on her. She was determined to heal and stop the cycle of toxicity. You would probably be surprised at the number of people I counseled who had dealt with such toxicity at home.

 I grew up watching how this kind of poisonous thinking affected one generation after another. A boy I grew up around, let’s call him Josh, received the brunt of some of his mother’s angry outbursts. Instead of gently correcting him, she would hit him with a broom or with her fist. But, what probably hurt him more deeply were the toxic words he came to think or believe about himself, “You can’t do anything right.” I was around this situation several times and knew Josh was just a “normal” kid, certainly not deserving this awful treatment. I felt sorry for him but it was difficult to relate to his situation since I never experienced this kind of abuse at home. Josh and his family moved to another town just before he became a teenager and I would only see him occasionally or when our schools would compete in basketball.

It would be years before I began to see how that message, “You can’t do anything right,” seems to have affected Josh. Somewhere along the way, he must have believed and adopted his mother’s view of himself. If you hear your parent’s message often enough and long enough you tend to believe it is true. Believing a negative message can have devastating results.

Josh began falling behind in school and eventually gave up and dropped out of high school. He left the state to find work and eventually despaired of his life but failed in his attempt to end his misery. Two marriages ended in failure. Thankfully, Josh came to embrace God’s love for him and some deep healing took place. Tragically, for most of his life he had allowed the toxic, evil thinking of someone he loved to dominate his thinking. That way of thinking had almost destroyed him but, thank God, he found acceptance, forgiveness, and grace in Jesus.     

When you look in the mirror do you see someone who can identify with Josh? Somewhere deep within you do you believe you are worthless or unloved? If you do, you have believed a lie straight out of hell. God loves you and wants the best for you. If you see someone in the mirror that identifies with Josh’s mother, please get help for the healing and help you need to correct your toxic thinking.

Toxic thoughts produce negative feelings about yourself and others. Your feelings are what they are but they are not based on truth. Healing will come when you acknowledge your feelings, forgive those who have hurt you and, change your thinking to agree with God’s estimate of your worth.  God loves you so much that He gave His only Son to die for you.

Perhaps my words cause you to consider the impact your words and actions, good or bad, can have on someone you love. Bless them with your loving words and encouragement. May God give you the power to bless those you love.

MY “To Do” List

 

 

 

My “To Do” List

For many years I have had the habit of making a weekly “To DO” list. This process helps me organize and prioritize the things I want to get done and keeps me focused. It also serves as a way to evaluate how I have invested my valuable time.

This week, just as I have done many times, I have included “Encourage someone daily” on my list. Why do I do this? First, as a believer, it is imperative that I show concern for the needs of others. And, given the times we are in, everyone could use a friendly “How are you doing?” or “I’m praying for you” message.

Another reason why I do this is that I’m repaying a debt of gratitude for all those people whose words and actions have helped and encouraged me to face various challenges and disappointments that threatened to dissuade me from my goals. My memories take me to my parents, church members, teachers, pastors, a college president, businessmen and women, employers and colleagues who have blessed my life with words and actions that showed a sincere interest in me.  I’m sure my journey would have been much more difficult had those people not made the effort to encourage me.

I regret not recognizing the impact many of these people had on my life and not thanking them before they departed us. However, their memories live on and continue that ministry of encouragement. I am grateful for these folks and want to continue to do what I can to let others know they are being remembered in prayer and that I will do what I can to help in practical ways.  

By the way, I woke up this morning feeling a bit lonely, low energy, isolated and generally out of touch with God. Getting “out of myself” and sending an encouraging text, making a call or writing a note is one of the surest ways I have found to cure blues.

It is quite likely you know someone who needs and encouraging word or action from you today. Make the effort. You never know just what such an action will do to lift their spirit and instill the courage they need to keep moving ahead.

God bless you.

The Cost of Forgiveness

Many who are followers of Jesus will begin celebrating Advent Season this month. Advent is the recognition of the single greatest even in human history, the moment when God became incarnate to address the greatest need of human existence. Jesus, God in human form, came to bring me and you into the very presence of and fellowship with God through the forgiveness he provides through his death and resurrection.

Forgiveness always involves suffering on the part of the one who forgives. It means to take within yourself the hurt imposed by another. As a parent, spouse or friend you have suffered at the hand of those you love. Forgiving those who hurt you is a costly thing. You have to endure pain if you forgive someone. You take that pain within yourself without holding the other person accountable or seeking revenge. 

Now think about that idea and how it relates to Christmas, the Advent Season. Christmas is about the cost God is willing to pay, what he is willing to suffer to restore a broken fellowship, to save us from our self and the wreck sin will make of our life. Our sin brought Jesus into the world and our sin put him on the cross because God loves us so much he was and is willing to give his only begotten son in order that we can be forgiven. 

While we enjoy the trappings of Christmas and being with those we love, let’s remember that Christmas is really about the cost of forgiveness. 

How Emotionally Mature Are You?

How emotionally mature are you? What if someone treated you the way you treat others? Would you feel happy, angry, disappointed, important or encouraged? Have you had someone hurt you by their careless remark or act?  Have you considered that your words and actions have a powerful effect on others? This is especially true with your child. To a large degree your child’s sense of himself comes from his interpretation of your words and actions toward him.

No one can be perfect, we all make mistakes. However, being mindful of  the power of our influence should cause us to use great care about our words and actions.You may have great difficulty controlling your emotions and say and do careless and hurtful things, things not easily forgotten by your child. 

The problem I have encountered is that some of us are hardly more emotionally mature than children. They are physically grown but emotionally stuck in a childish or adolescent emotional pattern. They pout and sulk when they don’t get their way. They explode or withdraw when they get angry. The children of this immature, childish kind of  parent are often damaged by this emotionally toxic environment. Solution: grow up. Get help.

An important part of being emotionally mature is to acknowledge your mistakes and hold yourself responsible for your actions. It is important to understand a few basic principles about being responsible: First, your child (or anyone else) doesn’t make you angry. Anger is your choice. You own it and it is yours. Second, what you do with your emotions is your responsibility. You are accountable for how you act and what you say. Third, to change irresponsible behavior you must acknowledge your wrong and fix it with the other person. After a sincere apology or two you may begin to discover how distasteful your behavior is and discipline yourself in order to change it.

Emotionally mature love seeks to do what is in the best interest of the other person. The way you handle your frustrations with him will go a long way in building positive relationships.

Whose Dream Is It?

What dream or expectations do you have for your kid? Caution. You are probably well-meaning and only want the best for your child but be sure you know if you are imposing your dream on your child. When you put you child in a position to repeat your accomplishments or to accomplish something you did not you may be using him for your own end. This is unhealthy love. Please allow me to share with you a very common way in which this can happen.

Healthy love does not attempt to fulfill your dream through your child. It is easy to understand how a parent might unconsciously try to live his life through his child. Most parents want the best for their child. Many want their children to have life as good as or better than they did growing up. They want them to have opportunities for education and success that they may have struggled for. The bottom line is they often want life to be easy for their child.

There is nothing wrong with wanting good things and success for your child. But, you may need to think hard about your definition of success and what is involved in accomplishing it. Parents tend to define success according to our own struggles and experiences. This can be a real trap as we think about dreams for our child. This can set us up to try to live out our dreams, accomplish things we didn’t do, and build a name for our self through our child.

Here are some reminders which may help you avoid trying to fulfill your dreams through your child.

First, true and lasting success is found only in our relationships with God, our self and others ( Matthew 22:34-40).Does this biblical concept guide your understanding of real success?

Second, your child is a gift to you. He is not your property or an instrument you can use to fulfill your dreams or make up for your disappointments in life. He belongs to God and to himself.

Third, God has a plan for your child and has chosen you as his parent to help him become all God intended him to be.

Many children grow old striving to fix that deficit in their parent’s life but never receive the sense of approval and acceptance they so desperately seek. A child needs acceptance and the right to be himself and pursue his own dreams rather than to feel obligated to fix the disappointments or fulfill dreams of his parent. To attempt to live for a parent is an emotional dead-end street.

Your Child’s “Best Friend”?

Is it healthy to be your child’s “best friend”? If you want to love your child in a way that is good for him you need to avoid things that may harm him. Being his “best friend” is one of those things you need to avoid. 

Being your child’s “best friend” is not a part of healthy love. Your child needs you to be his parent. You are not equals. You are the authority for your child and both of you should always understand that boundary. One day you may become your child’s “best friend” but this is reserved for a time when you are both grown and they are no longer under your authority.

This may sound harsh but it is for your child’s good that you not make decisions based on whether or not he/she will agree with or like you for what you do. Your love for your child should have a balance of friendliness and firmness. Going too far in either direction,crossing either of those boundaries creates problems for your child.

Your child may be very winsome and adorable. However, they do not generally look out for their own best interest. No, they learn how to charm and manipulate rather early in order to get what they want when they want it. Don’t take seriously their promise to” be your best friend” if you will let them have what they want. They’re not capable of being a real friend to you. Neither are they very capable of judging what is healthy for them.

If you are somehow wanting your child to be your best friend you may want to ask this question: “What is this about?” There could be many answers to this. You may be divorced or in a lonely marriage. You may not like to deal with confrontation with your child. You may feel it’s your role to make your child happy. Remember, trying to make your child happy with you may ultimately lead to their ruin.

Keep the lines clear as to who is the parent and who is the child. Your job is to be an adult and to assist your child to grow to be as healthy and functional as possible. Sometimes this will mean your child won’t like your decisions and will not claim you as their friend or parent. You must be emotionally mature enough to deal with their displeasure without giving in to their threats and demands. If you want to be your child’s “real” best friend, concentrate on being his parent.

Success or Failure

How does your child handle success or failure?  Is there any connection to how you handle success or failure?

Your child’s view of his performance in school, sports, music, relationships and various other pursuits affects the way he sees himself. Obviously, if your child is able to have some level of accomplishment in these areas he gains confidence and, therefore, tends to feel good about himself. Over time the ability to accomplish may lead to venturing out into more challenging pursuits. All children like to accomplish and the feelings of pride and confidence that come with it.

You can greatly aid your child in this area by involving him or her in helping around the house. Your child wants to feel big and able to do important things. Start early to teach them to be a “helper.” Teach them to fold clothes, work in the yard, load the dishwasher and do various other tasks. Second, choose tasks they are capable of doing and congratulate them when they accomplish their work.

As you involve your child in helpful activities around the house you are doing several important things in addition to helping your child’s sense of himself. You are preparing him to learn to work. You are also demonstrating that families can and need to share in the work of the family. And, you are also preparing your child for the time he will become independent of you.

Defeat is difficult for all of us to accept. However,an occasional defeat can be a good thing if handled correctly. But, I’m not concerned here with the occasional loss of a game or getting a grade in school that is less than desirable. What should concern us as parents is a pattern of defeat which discourages our child to the point they feel hopeless. Your child can play on a team that loses every game but not have a defeated attitude about life. Why? Because other aspects of his life where he feels successful and secure can counterbalance occasional losses.

But, how do we create a balance which helps our child gain confidence without becoming prideful? Emphasize the the need to be grateful and recognize God as the source of our gifts and accomplishments. This will guard against inordinate pride and the sense that our worth is based on what we can do.

The Power of “I’m Sorry”

 Do you ever say “I’m sorry” to your child?

Let’s face it, we aren’t going to be perfect parents. That means we make mistakes; do and say things we shouldn’t say and do to our kids. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to be the best parent we can be because our child needs and deserves our best effort. 

One important fact to keep in mind is that parenting is “on-the-job-training.” If you learn from your mistakes you should get better at it with more experience. Interesting, isn’t it? Your child is learning how to grow up while you are learning how to be a good parent.

But what do we do when we “lose it” with our child? How do we begin to correct things with our child, when we overreact or fail to act when we should do so? There is a one-word answer for this question: APOLOGIZE. That’s right, admit you didn’t handle the situation well and tell your child you are sorry for the way you acted toward him.

But you protest, “What if my child was doing something wrong?” I agree that your child’s wrong behavior needs to be corrected. But, maybe yours does also. Being the parent doesn’t mean you are immune from mistakes that need correction. So, when you mishandle a situation with your child, correct yourself and apologize for your bad behavior. Take your own medicine and attempt to not repeat the behavior for which you had to apologize.

Does apologizing diminish your authority with your child? Not at all. Apologizing establishes a sense of fairness in which your child comes to understand you want the best for him. Learning to say “I’m sorry” also means you will hold your self accountable for your actions. This helps develop a sense of trust that you will act in his best interest.

Perhaps, most importantly, your ability to “own your stuff” by apologizing will allow your child not to have to internalize your problems. This means he can develop emotional patterns that are healthy and not be controlled by behaviors that are reactions to things you need to resolve.