Want to be a Peacemaker? Get ready for some pain.

When Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed, he didn’t mean their lives would be smooth sailing.

Far from it. Jesus got crucified as a peacemaker. He was slaughtered for his uncompromising call away from personal and political agendas, agendas that had and would continue to fail at peace. He was rejected for calling his own people away from violence and into the way of God’s flourishing shalom. People hated him and killed him for it.

Peacemakers live dangerously.

Rather than enjoying an idyllic life far from the fray, peacemakers witness at the very point of conflict, crushed between warring parties and often hated by both sides.

When Jesus called the peacemakers “blessed,” he linked their action with their identity–he said that they would be called “children of God.” (Matt. 5:9) And we find out that being a child of God means experiencing some of the family pain, the rejection, the violent crushing that the Father, Son and Spirit endured through the peace-making incarnation of Jesus Christ. It is when we pursue peace and wholeness–and suffering for it–that we look most like our Triune God. The Bible’s vision of peace is more fully captured in the Hebrew word “shalom,” which is a picture of full flourishing, wholeness and rightness, for all of God’s creation–humans, animals, and the very earth itself.  And when we pursue that vision, all the powers of the world opposed to God’s renewing and recreating vision rise up to fight.

What does this mean practically? When we speak truth in love to a spouse, we may experience anger for daring to raise our voice. When we identify an area of historic injustice and seek God’s righteousness, we will face opposition, sometimes from people we thought would support us. When we call estranged people together for reconciliation, we will be accused of meddling. When we pursue more earth-careful practices for the sake of local water, we can take heat from people who should know better. I could go on.

Being peacemakers invites the same response Jesus experienced. Could this be part of what Jesus meant when he said “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first”? (John 15:18 NIV) Applied more broadly, people operating through non-gospel lens will respond strongly to overtures of peace, because peace always indicates changes in heart and practice. Even professed Jesus-followers could end up hating those who make peace because their own gospel-contrary patterns of life are being confronted and urged to be transformed to God’s perfect will. 

To be children of God, we must seek the wholeness and flourishing of God’s creation, from our marriages to our businesses to God’s good earth. But making peace comes at a cost–it always has.

Is the cost worth it? Yes. Just take a look at the cross.

 

 

Are you killing your influence in 1 of these 5 ways?

Everyone wants influence.

You don’t think so? Go with me for a moment. Whether it is influence in a child’s life, influence in an organization we joined, influence over your own health, influence on an issue of grave concern, or just influence in your conversation with a customer service agent, we all want influence. We want to be able to move something from where it is to where it should be–spiritually, relationally, culturally, politically, organizationally, or physically.

And yet, we can do things that minimize or even kill our influence. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about things we do or say, attitudes we foster, or postures we take which makes us less able to move something we deem important from where it is to where we think it should be.

We can kill our influence.

The polarizing, political conflicts of late evidence our diminishing powers of influence, but I could just as easily refer to ways we lessen our influence in the lives of our youth, the spiritual journey of our friends, and even our own personal growth.

Here are 5 ways we kill our influence.

  1. We don’t slow down to let people catch up. Sometimes we get so excited about a good idea that we fail to help people process and move along at the pace appropriate to them. How many parents have been frustrated with the slowness of a child’s development and given up trying? Patience!
  2. We are more concerned about getting our own point across than we are hearing where others are struggling. Someone is conflicted over an idea, or reacting because of the inherent personal implications, but instead of teasing out their questions, we get preachy and overbearing. Without empathy, influence wanes. Listen!
  3. We get defensive when people question our actions or ideas, becoming reactive instead of helpful. Because polarized argument has hit the mainstream in a profound way, we seem less willing to engage disagreements at the level of ideas–we feel attacked and return the favour with force. Peace!
  4. We consider certain people unworthy of our respect, reducing them to mocking derision. So much of this is happening, I don’t even know where to start. People who boldly claim to follow Jesus Christ will say the nastiest things about others, bringing shame on their Saviour (Here’s a related post on Christians behaving badly online). The lack of respect and the degrading of dignity means we’ve already lost our influence (as well as our own dignity). Battle lines get drawn, wars ensue, and nobody moves. Respect!
  5. We lack the humility needed to influence others, exuding instead an ultra-confidence (which we may not even have!) that our position or thought or perspective is the only right one possible.  Is it? Really? You’ve got it all figure out and don’t have anything left to learn from others, even those you may disagree with? Humility.

So how are you killing your influence?

We all want to move ideas and people toward something better, but we can kill our influence if we won’t wait and listen, calmly and with respect, knowing that we are also growing and learning, along with everyone else.

 

Wondering why you’re always fighting on Facebook? Here are 5 reasons our social media conversations are failing.

Is it possible to have good conversations on social media? I’m not so sure anymore.

The whole lot of yelling going on doesn’t seem helpful and I know I’m not the only one losing heart over our inability to engage each other meaningfully around important ideas and issues on which we might disagree.

Why is it so hard to talk on social media? Here are at least 5 reasons why.

1. Lack of Relationship

Whether the conversations are about carbon taxes, church strategies or the latest food allergies, they often rage between people who have no relationship with each other.  Maybe it started between friends, but the threads were quickly dominated by folks who do not know or love or understand one another. And with the absence of relationship comes absence of nuance and caring and empathy. And the absence of fruitful conversation.

2. Missing Context

More than once I’ve witnessed a show down between two people who, if they had known each other’s context, would have been much more careful and thoughtful in their responses. But this comment or that bullet response didn’t allow for that, and eruptions followed.  When I am in relationship with someone, I understand more of what’s behind the screen, and how I talk and respond and even challenge them changes as a result.

3. No Accountability

Perhaps nothing stands out more than how digital platforms create the illusion of anonymity, even if our names are posted right beside our comments! And with that illusion comes a lack of accountability. With our fingertips, we say things we will never be forced to back up (we can just log off!). There is no real way of holding to account someone’s ugly tirade or hateful comments, barring a little bit of shaming or blocking a certain user.

4. Little Trust

Another reason meaningful dialogue seems difficult is the lack of trust people have for each other. Given what we’ve said so far, it’s understandable–no relationship+no context+no accountability=very little trust.  And yet in order for a true exchange of ideas to occur, especially important and conflicting ideas, we have to extend some benefit of the doubt to the other person. We can’t think they are just idiots. As others have taught us, such as Patrick Lencioni, trust is foundational to good conflict over important ideas. But I see very little trust on the platforms (and often for good reason).

5. Limited Time

This one may surprise you, but I think the fifth reason conversations are difficult online is that we are often engaging in an ongoing thread of debate or discussion while moving at disorienting speed. We are commenting on this political idea while holding a bag of nails at the hardware store, then sniping in on someone else’s parenting comment while our own kid is demanding lunch. We just haven’t slowed down enough to engage, and end up reading too fast, commenting too quickly, failing to understand the issues, unable to follow through and then wondering why everyone’s so upset.  Some of these conversations just can’t be had within the time it takes to descend from the 4th floor of our office building.

So what do you think? Why is it so hard to have fruitful conversations on social media?

 

Goodbye, fear. Hello, love.

We were born for love, yet we often shrink back in fear.

We are afraid.

Afraid of what? Rejection, disregard, intimacy, judgment, or just being known as someone who needs to be loved (as though that’s strange). Perhaps we are fearful of being used or abused (again), fearful of the discomfort that can come when someone else really needs our love, fearful of being discovered for who we really are.

Fear cripples love.

But, as the Scripture tell us, perfect love casts out fear.  Isn’t that interesting? The anti-dote to fear, which will keep us from truly loving others, is perfect love itself. God’s love, being poured into our lives, enables us to reject fear and love others.

the-more-loved-we-know-we-are-by-the-fatherThe fear that keeps us from loving others is overcome not by muscling past our fears of others and the ways we might get hurt (because we will still get hurt when we love); fear is overcome by turning towards the perfect love of the Father, and letting his love for us expel all the fear in us. The more loved we know we are by the Father, the less fearful we become in our relationships with others. We know that, no matter what happens, we are loved–no human being can alter that. And though hurt and rejection and pain is still real and difficult, it no longer determines our ability to love others–that is given to us by the Father himself, determined by his love for us.

How can we reject fear and love others? By letting God love us, soaking in the truth of his immeasurable, eternal, faithful heart, the heart in which we find our true home. Living from that place of beauty and belonging, we can love, love, love–and love some more.

Goodbye, fear. Hello, love.

goodbye-fear

 

6 Common Ways We Erode Trust

Trust is precious.

You can’t parent without it. You can’t lead without it. You can’t love without it.

And when it’s eroding, nothing matters more than rebuilding that trust. Here are 6 common ways we erode trust in those we love and lead.

6 Common Ways We Erode Trust

Birling Gap Cottage Begins Demolition Process
Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

#1. We Make Weird Decisions. When I make decisions inconsistent with my vision, faith or character, it causes people to wonder what’s going on and pull back in mistrust. This strikes at the heart of integrity, and undermines our influence. Trust is built through thoughtful, informed decisions that grow out of God’s vision for us and are consistent with who we are.

#2. We Fail To Listen. If people don’t feel heard, they won’t trust you. I hear this complaint from people all the time. I hear it from my own kids! And it stops me in my tracks. Trust is built by parents who listen. And leaders who listen. And friends who listen. And spouses who listen. If you aren’t willing to understand what is really going on, you can’t be trusted. But if you’ll listen well, trust will grow.

#3. We Offer Lame Explanations. The opposite of poor listening is poor explanation. Like when we refuse to divulge why we are doing what we are doing, or going where we are going, or changing what we are changing. Trust grows through good conversations offering helpful explanations, inviting people into the process and the “why” of our decisions. But if people are being asked to accept direction without good explanation, trust erodes.

#4. We Pull Rank. When being pushed for explanation, pulling rank is the worst thing we can do. It suggests that we either don’t know what’s going on (and are afraid to admit it), or what is going on is questionable (and we are ashamed to talk about it). Either way, shutting down questions because “I am the boss/parent/leader” is a sure-fire way to erode trust even further. We influence through trust, not position.

erosion_control
Erosion control is needed, be that for soil or for trust. 

#5. We Are Unreliable. Trust quickly erodes when we fail to follow through, never show up on time, don’t complete our tasks, or gossip.  If we are always late, always forgetting, always stuck, never reliable, people can’t trust you. Reliability–faithfully doing what you said when you said–is key to building trust.

#6. We Betray Our Commitments. Taking unreliability to a whole new level, trust is eroded when we betray our commitments to love, to support, to forsake all others, to be at that special event, to serve in the ways we promised we would.  Obviously this applies to the biggest areas of our lives: our marriage, kids, work, friendships and faith. When we betray our most fundamental commitments, trust is more than eroded — it’s smashed. Can it be rebuilt? Yes, it can, but it’s going to be a long haul. More insidiously, we can betray our commitments in smaller ways. In marriage, by failing to put the other person ahead of our needs. Do that, and you’ll erode trust without having an affair.  In leadership, failing to seek the best for the people we are serving, opting instead to serve ourselves.

Trust is everything. Without trust, we cannot lead or love. Without trust, we have no influence.

Considering the ways we can erode trust challenges us to be people who work to build trust instead. That’s the kind of leader and father and husband and friend I want to be.

Why do you think trust is so crucial?

How have you seen trust rebuilt after it’s been eroded?

 

 

 

Marriage Got Gaps? 10 Ways Jesus Can Fill Them

Every marriage has gaps. And when two beautiful-yet-broken people commit to a life together, lots of grace is needed.

Gaps of all kinds spring up: expectation gaps, ability gaps, misunderstanding gaps, sin gaps, cultural gaps, value gaps. Sometimes you can hear them forming:

He just seems too focused on work to listen to me anymore.

She isn’t as physically active as when we met.  

I had hoped we’d do everything together, but we live pretty separate lives.

She’s just so different. I thought we’d be able to get past it, but now I’m not sure.

We aren’t intimate like we used to be. 

I’m disappointed.

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Gaps form in any relationship between two real people. And I’m convinced that it’s into these gaps that Jesus wants to pour his grace so our marriages can flourish.

How can we let Jesus fill the gaps?  Here are 10 ways.

  1. Acknowledge the gaps. Get honest with yourself and with God. Be real about your feelings, your disappointments, your angst. But keep it to yourself for now; wait till you’ve had some time to process the gaps before you talk to your spouse about your feelings. The guidance of a good counselor or trusted spiritual friend can help you identify the gaps you are experiencing.
  2. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s wisdom about which gaps can be closed and which gaps may never be resolved. The fact is, some of the gaps in our marriages won’t be “solved.” Some cultural and personality gaps may never be fully closed, requiring ongoing grace to make up the difference.  Other gaps may result from physical challenges, such as when a person has had physical trauma and is not able to do things that had previously been part of your shared life. Grace is needed for the gaps, whether they can be closed or not.
  3. Offer grace and forgiveness. Whatever the gaps, grace and forgiveness must be our basic stance. Jesus enters into all our gaps, be they gaps in our life with him, the ways we are not yet transformed, or the gaps in our marriage, and he fills up those gaps with his grace. Let him do that for your marriage by regularly offering grace and forgiveness to each other.
  4. Work on you. The best thing you can do for your marriage is to grow yourself. When gaps are acknowledged in a marriage, it’s easy to become focused on how “they” are the problem, ways “they” need to change, errors “they” must acknowledge. But that’s very ineffective (and usually untrue!). As the advice runs, the only person you can truly change is yourself. When you let God into your gaps and pursue personal growth, you’ll find that you’ll be helping your marriage. Read, pray, get counselling, get honest, grow in self-awareness, let the Spirit develop in you all the fruits of his presence.
  5. Pray! Prayer must become the primary way we address the gaps in our marriage. Talking with one trusted friend is good. (But with many friends? Not good!) Exploring our gaps with a counselor? Yes. But none of that replaces the most basic conversation we need to be having with God.  I find it’s at the moment when I’m feeling the most discouraged or challenged by the gaps in my marriage that I’m presented with a choice: Will I fret and worry? Or will I trust and pray? Choosing to pray is always the better choice.
  6. Be watchful. As gaps grow, temptations rush in and relational distance increases, widening gaps into canyons. Temptations come in many forms: comparing your spouse with another, throwing yourself into a hobby rather than connecting in conversation, working longer hours, even seeking false comfort in polar bear jumping ice gapdangerous and unhealthy ways, such as drinking too much or viewing pornography. The more one allows temptations to pull your heart away, the greater the gaps become.  In my counselling with couples, I find that small gaps became larger as people refused to acknowledge them and simply pursued other distractions.
  7. Gently discuss with your spouse what you have been discovering about yourself and what you’ve been praying about for your marriage. Do this without accusing. Notice that this is the first point I’ve made about actually talking to your spouse about the gaps you’ve identified. Why? Because we often talk about the gaps way too soon. We haven’t wrestled with our role in the gaps, we haven’t spent time working on ourselves, we haven’t cultivated an attitude of grace and acceptance; in short, we aren’t ready, and talking about the gaps before we are ready will backfire. But there is a time when we must talk about them. Do it gently. Recognize that this may be the first time your spouse has become aware of a particular gap, and they may push back. Give them time and space to process and pray. Resist getting defensive. And keep praying.
  8. Be patient and listen to how they see the gap. In the conversations that follow, heed the sage advice to “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Even after all the work you’ve done, you need to let your spouse share their perspective, their insight, their struggles. Be open to them and what they see. Keep offering grace and forgiveness, and be willing to ask for it.
  9. Be willing to let go of demands and expectations. As you process the gaps, be open-handed. There will be some expectations and demands that you will need to let go, letting Jesus make up for what your spouse cannot. This is true in every marriage, and it’s a key way we are reminded that our spouse cannot be everything for us–we need Jesus to be what only he can be. Some gaps will close slowly. Some will never close. But as we offer freedom to one another, we can experience grace in our marriage, even in the midst of the gaps.
  10. Live in a posture of thankful grace. When we focus on the gaps, we can forget the goodness. Make sure, in the midst of all the prayer and reflection and discussion, to continually and intentionally encourage your partner, celebrating God’s goodness in them, the ways they delight you and excite you. Live in a posture of thankful grace, letting Jesus fill the gaps, and experiencing in the process a relationship that is growing in depth and in passion.

 

How have you identified and addressed gaps in your marriage?

What is the best advice you’ve received for gaps that seem insurmountable?