Listening = Focusing

Last week I heard the phase, listening means focusing.  It doesn’t matter what type of relationship you find yourself in, if you want to do a good job with your half of the relationship you have to be a good listener.  Are you a spouse, a parent, a boss, an employee, or a friend?  If so, you have to be able to listen.

We cannot escape the necessity of listening.  So many of us look at our relationships and we see communication as a problematic challenge, rather than a God designed opportunity to reflect God, himself.  There is no sense of community without good communication.  God designed us for community.  He designed us in his image.  Right from the beginning of the Bible we see God in community with Himself.  A Biblical definition of God is: 1 God- in 3 persons-each fully God.  He said in Genesis let US, make man in OUR image.

Therefore, communication is not something that we should look at as a necessary evil, but as an opportunity to function in direct reflection of our Creator.  There is a sense that when we effort to communicate well we are efforting to reflect the greatness of God.

I believe it is our responsibility as followers of Christ to work hard to communicate well.  I can’t just say, “I have ADD, or I’m not a people person, or I’m a man…we’re just not good at communicating.”  So when I think about listening I must do more than just respond to what someone says to me, I must do more than just act like I hear them, I must do more than just allow the sound waves to make their way down my ear canal.  I must focus on the person that I’m communicating with.

As I focus on my wife when I’m talking with her, not only am I meeting a need that she has but I’m reflecting the image of God.

As I focus on my kids while they are talking to me, I’m not only showing them they are important to me, but I’m reflecting the image of God.

When I focus on the folks that report to me at my job, I’m not only helping them make our organization better, but I’m reflecting the image of God.

When I focus on my boss when he is talking to me, I’m not only keeping my job, but I’m reflecting the image of God.

What causes your to struggle to focus on those you must communicate with?  How can you improve your focus on them?  What must be eliminated from your life to help you be a better listener, and ultimatly a better reflection of your Creator?

 


Is contentment selling out to complacency?

What is the difference between complacency and contentment?  When I stop and think about that question it gets more and more difficult for me to determine the difference.

I’ve always felt complacency was associated with a bad attitude.  I’ve associated complacency with average and a lack of desire to improve.  I’ve seen complacency and lazy as almost the same thing.

While contentment I’ve associated with a good attitude.  Contentment I’ve linked with being thankful and peaceful.

I’ve never heard anyone say it’s a good thing to be complacent, but I’ve heard contentment as something to be desired.

Complacency is defined as uncritical satisfaction with one’s self.

Contentment is defined as a state of happiness and satisfaction.

Both attributes involve satisfaction, which is something everyone craves.  It seems that I’ve always associated complacency with satisfaction based on a low-level of ambition, while I’ve associated contentment with peacefulness because of healthy level of ambition and a good bit of achievement.

They somehow have connected and become confusing in my mind.   While I’m uncertain about the accurateness of my understanding of the two words, one thing is clear to me.  I’ve always feared contentment, because I’ve wondered if contentment meant I was selling out.  If I was content did it mean I was complacent?  I always wondered if I felt contentment if it meant I had lowered my goals, and just quit trying to achieve.  I’ve never wanted to be associated with someone who wasn’t ambitious.  I’ve never wanted to be associated with someone who quit trying to make an impact on this world for good.

Last week 1st Timothy 6:1-10, confronted and challenged my attitude towards contentment.  Paul says in verses 6-8 that,”… godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.”  He basically makes the point that if you are living a godly life and have contentment then you have something very significant.  Paul also describes in this passage some things associated with those that lack contentment.  Let’s take a look at this description and see if they look familiar to you:

  • They crave controversy
  • They fight over words
  • They produce envy
  • They produce dissension
  • They are slanderous
  • They produce evil suspicions
  • They create constant friction with others
  • They use God to try to get ahead
  • They desire to be rich which leads them into temptations and traps that are full of harmful desires which ruin and destroy others

Contentment, Paul says is if we have food and clothing we should be content.  He is interpreting life through a long-term type of lens.  He tells us that once we die none of the things that lead us towards discontentment are of any value.  He says we’ve brought nothing into the world and we can take nothing from it.

I think that Paul shows us that we aren’t selling out if we are content.  I think he shows us that contentment is a great gain.  Not only does he show us that contentment is a good thing but he shows us the troubles of those that live in discontentment.

Once we determine that we lack contentment what do we do to correct that problem?  Do we satisfy our lack of contentment by trying to attain more of something that we think will fill the void?  That is what most people do right?  We try to satisfy our lack of contentment with new clothes, a new house, a new car, a new job, or even a new spouse.  We think a little more of this or a better one of those will bring the satisfaction we’ve been looking for.

To win the battle against discontentment we have to fill the void with something.  We have to obtain something of great value.  We must substitute the desire for a new or different this or that with a desire for God.  Every time we feel that emotion of desire for something we must stop and take a look at what God has provide for us, namely Himself through Christ death and resurrection.  He has given us a relationship with the King of Kings.  He has given us Himself, the most powerful and greatest being in the universe, yet we try to find contentment in some piece of His creation.

Solving contentment problems don’t mean we become complacent.  Solving contentment problems don’t mean that we become passive and just hope everything gets better for us.  Solving contentment problems mean that you take an active role by changing your desires for stuff into a desire for God.  When you feel discontentment make yourself ask God for more of Him.  Make yourself open up the Bible and spend time reading.  Overtime this will give you a sense of contentment with whatever circumstances you find yourself in.

When we are discontent don’t be passive and just hope it gets better be active, desire more, just make sure it is the more of the right thing.


Dangerous Success

Men should be goal oriented.  We should be ambitious.  We should work hard and strive for excellence.  Joe Edwards who is one of my mentors made a statement at our Discipling Dad’s Bible Study that impacted me.  He said something like…early success can be dangerous because we tend to think that success was because of us.  I wrote it down and started to reflect on it from the perspective of sports, business, church, parenting, and just life in general.

We’ve all seen the young superstar athlete that succeeds and wins early on in his career and begins to live and act with pride and arrogance.  There are people who succeed in business and make a lot of money early in their career and begin living like there is an endless stream of cash and success that will follow him the rest of his life.  They do this because they believe it is them that has brought their success.

We’ve also seen the veteran who worked hard played for years and then finally won a championship, he was humbled by the achievement because he knows how others played a huge role in his success.  The behavioral differences between a freshman and a senior winner of the Heisman Trophy can be drastic.  The man who worked for years to build a business and finally found success will act differently than the person that made millions in their early 20′s.

Not everyone that has early success is going to end up arrogant and in a mess.  But if we don’t know where talent, achievement, and success comes from it most likely will end bad.  Malcolm GladwellOutliers: The Story of Success  agrees that no one is a self-made success. “…No one-not rock stars, not professional athletes, not software billionaires, and not even geniuses-ever makes it alone.”

Joseph and David in the Old Testament would agree.  Genesis 39:2 says, “The Lord was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did…”  1 Samuel 18:14 says, “David had success in all his undertakings, for the Lord was with him.”

Success, early or late in life, is a gift that should be viewed through the lens of James 1:17.  “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father…” Without God there is no success, and without his hand organizing the world in which I live I will never find myself successful.  This should alter the way I prepare, this should alter the way I respond to not only success but also failure.


Do you play the game?

When we spend time with other people we tend to play the comparison game.  This comparison game is something that comes natural to all of us.  It’s a game that starts very early on in everyone’s life.  If you have siblings you know that from a very early age you heard someone say something that made you compare yourself to your brother or sister.  Even if the person wasn’t comparing you and your sister when they said, “She is so smart.”  The thought went through your head I wonder if I’m as smart as her.  My boys love to race against each other.  Why?  They want to see how they stack up against other people in terms of their speed.  I think this comes natural to everyone…or is it just me?

As adults we can drive down the road, see someone driving that high-end car or that brand new truck, and start to compare our life (not just their vehicles) to theirs.  We might drive past a neighborhood and think what have they done to deserve to live in that place.  We wonder how he got that promotion.  A really dangerous comparison game that we play is comparing our spouse to a friend’s spouse (their looks, their personality, their talents, their cooking).  As long as we play this game we will always have problems, because we rarely know the whole story.  We are comparing our situation, one we know a lot about, to another’s situation, that we have limited knowledge of.

The writer of Psalm 73 was playing the comparison game.  In verse 3 he says, “He was envious of the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.”  

He saw they were healthy (verse 4).

They had no worries (verse 5).

Their life seemed like one big fat (or phat) party (verse 7).

They talked smack to heaven and earth (verse 8-11).

They did wrong and never got caught, and they kept getting richer (verse 12).

The writer seems to regret his obedience in verse 13 and 14.  Everything seemed to be the exact opposite of the guy he described in the previous verses.  He says he’s a good guy that has had everything go wrong.  “All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.  For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning.” He has been playing the comparison game and has been losing.  He is obviously upset and discouraged about his life, he is confused and can’t understand why this is the way things have happened (verse 16).

But then something significant happens that changes his attitude.  Something happens that changes his words.  He spent time with God and God cleared things up for him (verse 17) “…until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I discerned their end.”  After he spends time with the greatest of the great, the creator of the universe, the one and only God he says nothing is important compared to Him.  He says that he isn’t envious of others life.  He says all he desires is God (verse 25)  “...and there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”

He is no longer envious, he is thankful.  He concludes with clarity, not confusion.  He knows what is good for him, and it is way different from what he was wanting earlier.  He says in verse 28, “...but it is good to be near God;  I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

In this world where you can’t get away from people telling you how you need something else to be happy, the Bible speaks truth.  I can’t watch a playoff baseball game without a commercial saying I need a new truck or a better cell phone.  I can’t get on Twitter or Facebook without someone pointing out how great their life is.  The comparison game is easy to play, but I will always lose.  Rather than focusing on what others have I should take advantage of what I have the opportunity to do.  It’s something that is free to all of us.  I can spend time with God.  Because of what Christ did by dying on the cross and because He was raised from the dead I am able to spend time with God.  It is only because of Him that I’m good enough to be in God’s presences.  It is only because of His forgiveness that I can be part of God’s family.

Have you taken advantage of the opportunity to be in God’s presence today?  The writer of Psalm 73 says that he almost got caught by this comparison game.  It almost cost him (verse 2).  Don’t let your feet slip into playing this game.  Focus on your relationship with God and let him take care of arranging the details of your life.

 


A Parent’s Influence Never Ends

A Friend of mine posted a blog yesterday that I think parents of all ages would do well to read.  He says there are three ways that parents continue to influence their children not only as they are living in our home, but even after they grow up and are on their own.

1. Our Example

2. Our Story

3. Our Encouragement

You can find the entire blog post at KevinAThompson.com


I’m gonna get mine…so get yours

Guys I grew up around and were influenced by would make statements like, “I’m gonna get mine…so get yours.”  Meaning you got to go get what you want.  It’s all about you going after and getting the stuff you deserve.  It was always said with an arrogant and boastful attitude.  There was this attitude of it’s my responsibility to get what I want and deserve.

Some men will tell you that their main responsibility as a leader in their family is to provide and protect.  There’s little debating the truth that men are supposed to provide and protect their family.  The debate will come when we try to determine what we are to provide for them and what we are to protect them from.  It’s easy to misunderstand and/or forget.  God must have known this would be something we as men would need to be reminded of, just like the nation of Israel was reminded of in the book of Deuteronomy.  If you need a good refocusing of your responsibilities with your family read Deuteronomy 8.  It is easy for us in our world of accomplishments, ambitions, and goals to forget who provides for us.

Deuteronomy 8:17 uses strong language, (beware).  The Bible isn’t saying, “…hey by the way don’t forget,” in a soft, little Ole lady, kind of way.  It’s boldly telling us as if our life depends on us paying attention to what he is about to say.  There is danger if we don’t listen and learn.  Verses 11, 14, and 19 all deal with God’s people forgetting what God has done.    In this passage we are warned that after the Lord blesses we should be careful not to think that we earned or deserve what we have.  God is concerned with our heart in verse 17.  He says, “Beware lest you say in your heart, “my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.”  It is God who provides.  It is God who supplies.  It is God who brings wealth.  That is hard for proud men to hear.  It is hard for proud women to hear.  We all want to be affirmed in our efforts and work, by earning our living.  There is nothing wrong with, and I would say there is even something admirable about working hard and earning a living to provide for our family.  But the danger comes when we think that it is truly us that has provided, and we begin to think in our hearts that we deserve what we have and we place our trust in our own efforts and wisdom.

Verse 6 gives us two main responsibilities when it comes to our need to provide for our family.  He says, “So you shall keep the commandments of the Lord your God by (1) walking in his ways, and by (2) fearing him.”  It is a temptation for many to walk in the ways of this world in order to provide (debt, selfishness, crookedness, rudeness, working too much, forfeiting time with God and family).  It’s also a temptation to fear man rather than God.  It is easy to care more about what our neighbor, co-worker, or family member thinks of us rather than making sure that God is pleased with our hearts.

When we run ahead of ourselves and try to find provisions for ourselves and our family in ways other than God’s ways we miss out on the joy of allowing him to finish our story.   The story that God writes for your life is greater by far than any story you’ve ever dreamed up for yourself.  Setting our hearts trust on him has the rewards of an awesome ending to an amazing story.  Trusting in our own efforts for provisions has an ending that isn’t so good.  In verse 19, God reminds Israel of the dangers of trusting in others for provisions.  “And if you forget the Lord your God and go after other gods and serve them and worship them, I solemnly warn you today that you shall surely perish.  Like the nations that the Lord makes to perish before you, so shall you perish…”

The end of verse 16, shows us that God reminds us of these things and disciplines us for our, “good in the end.”  What will you trust in?  How will your story end?


When Doing Right Doesn’t Turn Out Right

“Good choices lead to good consequences, and bad choices lead to bad consequences.”  That’s a phrase we say a lot in our house when it comes to dealing with behavior issues.  It’s a great phrase to teach children and adults.  I think it’s a truth found in many places in the Bible, especially the book of Proverbs.  Another phrase that we say a lot in our family, usually in regards to school and sports is, “do your best and trust God for the rest.”  A third phrase, I picked up in baseball and one that I repeat often is, “Stay in the process and out of the results.”  In other words do the process correctly and don’t worry about what happens after that.  Sometimes you can have the perfect swing, hit the ball hard and hit it right at someone and you’re out.  You did everything right and the result wasn’t what you hoped for.  I think all three phrases are useful catchy phrases, and all three phrases can be drawn from the pages of the Bible and applied to different leadership situations.

If these phrases could be tied together and summed up in one word it might be RESPONSIBILITY.  There are things in our life that are our responsibility and there are things in life that are God’s responsibility.  God designed the world with a cause and effect factor.  He outlines most of this in the Bible.  He tells us what our responsibility is and he takes care of His.  Most of the time when we follow his way of doing things, good things tend to happen, but this is not always the case.  There are several examples throughout the Bible that remind us that God’s way is often above our ability to understand.  Joseph, Job, Jeremiah, the Disciples, Paul, and Jesus are all people who did what God prescribed for them to do, but the immediate consequence was not what most people would describe as favorable.

In 2 Timothy 3, Paul describes what the world will look like during the last days, and it’s not a pretty picture.  “…In the last days there will come times of difficulty.  For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, heartless, unappeasable, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not loving good, treacherous, reckless, swollen with conceit, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of god, having the appearance of godliness, but denying its power…” The negative environment that we will be faced with in this life and the sometimes unfavorable consequences to our good decisions do not change our responsibility.  We are still responsible to do the right thing and God is responsible for the results.

As dads, husbands, and leaders we are responsible to seek to do then do the right thing.  We must not grow weary in doing good.  Paul reminds some of his people of this in 2 Thessalonians 3:13, when he says don’t get tired of doing good.  There will be times as parents when we do everything we know to do to raise our children right and the result won’t be what we hoped for.  There are times as husbands when we do the right things for our wife and she doesn’t respond the way we think she should.  In these moments we can’t get tired of doing good.  We are responsible to do what God’s word describes as the right thing and it is God’s responsibility to take care of the results.

The story wasn’t over when Jesus was executing the Father’s game plan for saving us by dying on the cross.  It would have been easy to look at Jesus’ death and say God’s plan wasn’t working.  Jesus did all the right things and the plan didn’t seem to be working out for him, but the story wasn’t over was it.  Jesus did everything right even to the point of obeying to his own death.  All seemed terrible, for days everything Jesus did and said seemed pointless, but the story wasn’t over yet.  Three day’s later he was raised from the dead, and exalted to the highest position in the universe.

Our responsibility is to obey and it’s God’s responsibility to take care of the results.  The challenge for many of us is that many of us have a hard time trusting that his plan is better than ours.  Are we willing to trust him to do what he says he is trustworthy to do?


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