These Two Words Will Change Your Life

Date

November 22, 2022

Categories

Home

When was the last time someone thanked you for something you did for them? Were you surprised? —”Wow, I had no idea what I did meant so much to them.”

When was the last time you thanked someone for something they did for you? If you’re convicted by the last question, do not fell put upon! That is me. That is all of us.

What I want to share with you is not a typical Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving message (I’m not kicking dust on ole Norman). But it is something that I hope will be a great encouragement to you and lead to greater joy in Christ—which is what I want to be about.

My main point is simply this: when we say, “thank you!” we bless others, and receive a blessing back in the form of a changed life. Here’s how this happens in three steps.

STEP ONE – Practice saying, “Thank you!”

Given human nature, it is safe to say that our natural tendency is toward entitlement rather than thankfulness. Sometimes, “thank you” is not reflexive but something we have to remember to say—or to say well. For example, as parents, we know how hard it can be to get our children to say thank you for a gift from a friend or grandparent. I suppose in this way our children are more like us than they are unlike us, but I digress.

Over time, saying those two words and penning handwritten notes create an awareness that we each have been given much more than we realize. We have taken a lot for granted. It is not only decent but healthy to practice saying “thank you” for everything from a Christmas gift, a good deed, a word of encouragement, personal concern voiced, or even for an enduring friendship.

STEP TWO – Grow in gratitude

Over time, as we practice saying “thank you”, we become more grateful people because we realize how dependent on each other we really are. Little things: the words of encouragement, the times given for impromptu conversations at desperate moments, the simple meals with a friend, the many “I’ll pray for yous” about your scary doctor’s appointment, financial or marital struggles matter. These and so many more blessings we enjoy take on much greater meaning. And this is where it really gets good!

As we cultivate a grateful attitude, we enjoy a huge benefit. We begin to see how God is really the One who is behind all of our blessings. God is behind every act of kindness we receive because he is love. Giving was his idea because that is who he is. He is the giver and redeemer of life. He is at work in all our lives, making us more like him as we are woven together as one in Christ through his Holy Spirit. This is a joyful thing to see happen.

STEP THREE – Let joy change you

Our joyful response to seeing God’s love poured out to us through others, quite frankly changes us. Here’s how. God’s love is reflexive. It has the effect of causing us to love others (see 2 Corinthians 5:11-21). Growing in being others-centered represents Christ-like change. Gratitude causes us to see ourselves as the truly unworthy recipients we really are. This gives us joy! God loves me so much that he has put people in my life who genuinely care about me and who will help. We become what the world is desperately seeking but that apart from Jesus, will struggle to ever find: people who really care about others—no matter who they are.

Say thank you to someone this Thanksgiving. Say thank you to someone the day after Thanksgiving, and on January 11, March 3, July 21, and September 15 (i.e. every day!) Doing so cultivates a grateful attitude that will not only spawn new and deeper relationships. It will increase your joy and also change your life.

As I close this Thanksgiving article, I want to say, “thank you!” to you, our faithful audience. Some of you are new to the ministry, some have been with us for years. All are a blessing to our family. As you listen to our humble attempts at podcasts and support the ministry through donations and prayers, you have meant so much. We look forward to walking into the new year with you and growing in the joy of the gospel, together. Happy Thanksgiving!

You May Kiss the Bride

Date

November 16, 2022

Categories

Home

Parenting

What is your favorite part of a wedding? Is it watching the radiant bride walk down the aisle? The exchange of vows? When the pastor says to the giddy, newly minted husband, “You may kiss the bride!” These are iconic moments. Weddings also provide vital opportunities to seize encouragement we desperately need in a broken world.

Last week, I married off my first child and daughter, Abigail. It was a glorious day filled from beginning to end with joyful celebration… and admittedly, some tears.

As I reflected on this experience, I realized in a fresh way that weddings have incredible power to comfort and embolden us as we face disappointments, fears, and frustrations.

Three Reminders.

First, our lives find meaning within God’s larger story. Isn’t it easy to get engrossed in the details of our own little lives? When our purpose is defined by the selfish words “me-my-mine” we taste the bitter fruit of self-pity, depression, anger, worry, and other woes. Our world shrivels like a raisin, rigid and dark. We lose sight of God’s broader purpose for our lives which is to be part of his story whose plot is redemption.

We are not our own, we were bought with a price (1 Cor. 6:19-20). Our relationships are both an end and a means to the end of redemption in our own lives and the lives of others. We are interdependent. We give and we take. We need each other. Marriage in all its complexity is to be a technicolor picture of how redemption works out in the lives of saved sinners. It points to the much more important and eternal relationship of Christ and his church. As such, weddings remind us of our place within God’s larger story.

Second, we find great peace and rest when we follow God’s plan. It is God’s general plan for men and women to marry (for the good and joy of both). God has demonstrated throughout history that he blesses his people when they follow his plan. Even when we fail, God’s plan provides provision for how to get back on track. We find peace and rest when we follow his plan for our relationships. We can embrace it with the expectation that he will bless it and he will redeem, despite cultural disdain.

Third, God is good. Marriage reminds us of God’s goodness. God created all things good, including man and woman. God said that it is not good for man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). Why argue with The One who made us this way? Men and women are gloriously different but complimentary. Our spiritual, mental, emotional, and physical differences were designed to bring us joy. Even the lows; the frustrating struggles of marriage when handled with the grace of the gospel, demonstrate God’s goodness as a redeeming God; restoring us to himself and to each other. We can always build back better (to redeem an otherwise euphemistic political phrase). If we still have a pulse, it is never too late. His attributes of sacrificial love, forgiveness, and oneness (all good) intended to accomplish good are all modeled in marriage.

Now, I would like to make two observations.

Parenting Years Fly by Fast. Enjoy Them.

Life is short and our time with our children is shorter. As I prepared my “father of the bride” speech, I was struck anew with this truth as I considered stories about my time with Abigail as a little girl. Those wonderful years were filled with precious moments. But they flew by so fast and I confess that I did not choose to enjoy those years as much as I could have. We do have jobs that need our attention, but our jobs do not ultimately define us. I’ll never forget these sage words, “When you are on your deathbed you will not be wishing you spent more time at the office.”

As parents, we really are circus stars. Raising children is a balancing act that lasts 20 years, not 20 seconds. Actually, the metaphor of a balancing act isn’t exactly accurate because a job and raising children are not equal. But it does convey the idea that we need to intentionally engage the struggle if we are doing it faithfully. Do we seek ultimate significance in our careers that will often rob others, or do we rest in our significance as redeemed sons of the Most High God freeing us to serve others? If it all seems too easy, perhaps we are “out of balance.”

Be Grateful for Our Relationships.

Weddings (and funerals) help us see that our church relationships matter—a lot. I was looking at the wedding guests and each one has played a significant role in our lives. Some of the people were extended family, but many were fellow church members who have been part of our lives for decades. They were there because they were special. Unfortunately, there were many special people who we could not invite but even that realization was a blessing.

Weddings provide a visible reminder that we are not alone. God has given us a community, an eternal family to help us walk with him, especially when we are struggling, which if we’re honest is often. He has made a way for us to have enduring joy, peace, and purpose in this broken world. Weddings are vital reminders or God’s effervescent love and provision for our joy and redemption.

To hear more from Leslee and me about the wedding and our takeaways, please listen to the Home In Him podcast here.

Wanna Get Away?

Date

September 15, 2022

Categories

Home

Marriage

Parenting

Main Point: We need physical and spiritual rest. Slow down to listen to the Lord. Marinate in God’s word. Pray. Decompress. While my article addresses men directly as leaders in the home, it applies equally to wives and mothers, too. Both men and women need what I describe.

Wanna Get Away? is a popular slogan for a major U.S. airline. It works because life is increasingly uncertain, chaotic, and physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining. We all want and need a time to disconnect, rest, focus on the Lord, and think intentionally about our families.

At the behest of one of my life coaches, I did this very thing in August. My coach strongly suggested I do this at least 2-3 times per year. While I was not new to this practice, it had been way too long since I last did it. I was so glad I did.

With eight children (five are adults and it doesn’t get easier when they get older) and a home-based ministry, my life is complicated and generally over-extended. I am easily overcome by the tyranny of the urgent. I can quickly lose perspective on priorities.

When I am away, I recalibrate mentally, physically, emotionally, and most importantly, spiritually. This particular getaway provided noticeable mental and spiritual rest. I could literally feel myself decompressing. I was also able to actually think about relationships in my home in a way that brought clarity and action.

NOTE: This most definitely is not a vacation! Vacations generally involve open ended fun with the family. This however is a time alone, by yourself, focused on seeking the Lord and thinking intentionally about your spiritual walk and your relationships at home.

What follows are 15 ideas to prime your own pump on how to make a getaway like this possible for yourself—or your spouse!

  1. Be honest about your need for rest. It is not a weakness to admit you need to rest and reconnect with God in a way that requires getting away. Sometimes we or our relationships break before we finally listen. Even Jesus—God in human flesh—had times away from the grind to connect with his Father and to rejuvenate. If God himself needed that. How much more do we?
  2. Just do it. Look at the calendar with your wife and set a time to go. Frankly, this is the hardest part. We are all so busy and it is hard to commit to something like this that while important, is usually not urgent. Putting it off is the same as a decision not to do it. I put it off for over a year. I could’ve used that time but for over a year—I did not do it.
  3. Plan to be away for at least 2 nights. It is hard to disconnect only being gone one night. Two nights gives you one full day and possibly two partial days. I have found that the partial days on either end are not very productive because of the distractions of going and coming. Whole days are the ticket. Three nights gives you two full days which is ideal.
  4. Choose a hotel that you like. You may have to spend a little money but it is worth it. If the vibe is off, it will impact the effectiveness of the time away. Personally, I like Hilton’s Embassy Suites. They offer a delicious, free, made to order hot breakfast. Each suite offers a bedroom and a separate living or work area with a desk. The inside atrium style of these hotels offers a resort feel with tables and various comfortable chairs where you can read and reflect as a change of scenery from your suite. The overall vibe works well for me and puts me in a relaxed mood. But maybe camping is more your style? If so, more power to you!
  5. Bring your Bible, a journal, and a spiritual book to read. The Bible and a journal are essential equipment. The additional book—not so much. But it is good to take time to read something you enjoy other than your Bible. On my recent getaway, I read two books: The Daily Relaxer by Matthew McKay, and Family Discipleship by Adam Griffin. Both offered significant insights into issues I was addressing.
  6. Read the Word in the morning after breakfast. Set the tone by spending time with the Lord first each day. I like to choose a whole book of the Bible and read it through over and over in one sitting which I rarely if ever do this as part of my normal devotions. There just isn’t enough time. Doing this though will likely lead you to see new things in the passage. In my recent time away, I read through Colossians several times and was greatly encouraged by deeper meditation on the mystery of the Gospel which Paul addresses.
  7. Pray as you read the word. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to speak to you through His word. After reading a particularly meaningful verse, pray. Ask God for understanding. Meditate on the verse. Pray some more, etc.
  8. Make notes and journal. As you read and pray, make notes in a journal about fresh insights, or things you want to think more about. These might be personal spiritual matters or they might be relational matters. Either way, writing them down or even journaling helps to learn, clarify, and prioritize specific matters needing further action. Note taking and journaling also provide a record that you can go back to later and evaluate your progress.
  9. Pre-empt distractions. It is challenging to slow down and create separation from the daily grind—even when you are away. To help with “Daily Grind Creep” have a sheet of paper ready where you can write down the things that will pop into your mind. Things like fixing the leaky sink in the kids’ bathroom or remembering to change the oil in the car. If it comes to mind, write it down so you can stay focused in reading and in prayer.
  10. Pray conversationally. You now have time to talk with God in elongated format. Listen to Him.
  11. Spend time thinking about each family member. Ask the following questions about your wife and each child: How is their walk with God? What are areas of strength that I can point out and encourage them in? What are areas of weakness where I need to help strengthen them? How am I loving my wife like Jesus? What are ways I am exasperating my children? One thing I do is try to write down identity statements that match up well with specific areas of struggle and that they can memorize and that I can pray for them to better understand.
  12. Enjoy yourself. This is part of resting. Do something you rarely do: watch a show you like! Or, start watching a show early enough that you don’t fall asleep before the opening credits are finished. Go outside and stare at the stars.
  13. Treat yourself to a nice meal. One night, I went to a hole-in-the-wall Greek restaurant where I ate seared anchovy’s and skate wings. It was a bit crazy but fun and delicious. I couldn’t help but wish my wife was there with me to enjoy it (although I don’t think the anchovies would have gone over too well.)
  14. Make a pact with your cell phone. Turn notifications off and silence it. Don’t get trapped playing games on your phone. I took my phone and put it under the pillow in the bedroom while I worked at the desk in the other room.
  15. Report back home each day. It is good to report back home once a day to share how it is going. These reports help your wife and children pray for you and also help them see that the sacrifices they’re making to make this time possible are being rewarded in your own growth and in better leadership of your home.

Leading well in the home begins with being well ourselves. Then, it requires an investiture in the lives of others that requires intentionality. But intentionality itself must be a priority. The busyness of life works against that. Time away to rest and reflect help rejuvenate us in being intentional about the right things in our own walk with the Lord and in our relationships at home.

On final thought: do not let the best be the enemy of the good. You want to do this “right” (there is no ONE right way) but for some reason it can’t be perfect so, you do nothing. A time away for a day or a time away that is not ideal in some way is better than no time away at all.

So, when are you going to take your time away?

Five Simple Technology Guidelines we TRY to Keep

Following are a few guidelines, some of which we have found helpful. Some reflect what others have suggested to us. Lord willing, they may prime your own pump for what you and your family can do if this is a challenge for you as it is has been for us.

01

No electronic devices until school work is done

We have found technology to be a great motivator for getting school work done. In the summer months the kids could earn time by doing chores around the house. We got some projects completed and it cured some boredom!

No technology until schoolwork is done

02

No electronic devices from 6pm-8pm

This makes room genuine conversation around dinner time.

03

Turn off or put devices away for certain conversations

We should be off of our phones for all conversations. Some conversations need even more attention. It may be worth actually putting the phones out of sight away. New research finds having a mobile device within easy reach divides your attention, even if you’re not actively looking at.

04

Leave them home once in a while

I enjoy actually leaving my phone at home when I go out on brief errands. It is a very freeing feeling. Try it!

05

Work to set some sort of parameters about how you handle texts and calls

Do you answer them immediately? Or do you wait some period of time before reading and then answering them? It is good to let people know your “policy” so that they can adjust their expectations.

Make Your Cell Phone Your Servant (Not the other way around)

Date

August 18, 2022

Categories

Home

One day last week while pouring a cup of coffee I became frustrated because the coffee wasn’t coming out of the carafe fast enough. (Yes, that really happened.) Now, you might say, “Eric, you’re wound too tight. You need a vacation.” (Well, that happened on vacation.) Can you relate? If not, let me ask about the traffic lights you encounter each day. Have you found yourself more impatient than usual? If neither of those strike a chord in your conscience, then what would your spouse say about how well you listen?

We find ourselves increasingly impatient with most things and most people. I don’t remember it always being this way. Have you begun to suspect the tool that has made our lives easier is also responsible for making them more difficult?

Positives aside—and there are many—would I be overstating my point if I said that cell phones have a corrosive impact on our relationships?

Unreasonable Expectations

Have our cell phones not conditioned our expectations of others—and ourselves—well beyond what is reasonable? We want (or expect) instantaneous responses whether communication involves the phone or not.

Maybe you sent a text that you did not get a response to as soon as expected. (It used to be one had to call, leave a message, and expected to wait for a day or more to get a call back!) Who hasn’t tried to call someone and they didn’t answer? Annoyed, we are tempted to draw unkind and untrue conclusions about these people. “Why didn’t he pick up? I—KNOW—he has his phone with him!” “What’s wrong with him today?” “She doesn’t care about me!” Our cell phones have changed us more than we realize or want to admit.

Endless Connectivity

We depend—daily—on our phones for so many functions. They are our constant companions that render us constantly available. Endless connection leaves us mentally drained and without good boundaries. It is hard to establish boundaries with something that is ever-present.

Being in constant contact subjects us to the tyranny of the urgent subverting priorities. We say yes to one interruption but feel guilty about saying no to another.

The way we communicate with each other is stressed. We text when we should call. And we call when a text would probably suffice. Texting (again, with all its benefits) still reduces the communication pie to its smallest third: the written word without the benefit of voice tone and body language. How many times have you spent ten minutes parsing a text because you didn’t know if the person was angry with you?

Do I serve the phone? Or, does the phone serve me? Are our phones helping or hindering our relationships? If you haven’t already, it’s time to take note and take action! Although I have threatened family and friends that I will go back to a land line, there are less draconian measures at our disposal. (If you have taken action then let the following ideas affirm you and strengthen your resolve.)

Take Action!

Set boundaries. One way we are doing this at my house is that we are trying to not bring our phones to the table when we eat a meal. It is amazing how hard this is. With the phone nearby, the moment the conversation gets uninteresting, people zone out and instinctively start scrolling. Keeping the phone away from the table can help reestablish communication habits that are other-centered.

Another boundary idea is to put your phone away when you know you need to focus on a person or project. Sometimes, I silence my phone, put it in my clothes closet under a pile of shirts and close the two doors between the closet and my office in order to establish a boundary.

Cut yourself some slack. You are a finite being. God did not create you to be omni-anything. You put your pants on one leg at a time. You are fallible. You have only two ears and one mouth. Yes, God gave you ten fingers on two hands but the polar ice caps won’t melt if you keep texting with only one finger.

Cut others slack. The corollary to cutting ourselves slack is cutting others slack. Don’t expect people to respond immediately. If you really do need a quick answer: just call! Remember to think the best and to not assume the worst about why they responded the way they did or about why they might not have responded at all. The Golden Rule applies!

Being mindful of the impact our cell phones are having on our relationships is important. Our relationships are the ground in which we plant and water seeds of the gospel. To that end our cell phones can be great servants but they are awful masters. Truth is, our cell phones are changing us in bad ways. Don’t let them corrode your relationships.

Ministering to Neighbors, Part 3

Date

May 21, 2016

Categories

Gospel

Home

Part three: Be Willing to be Taken Advantage of

Read part two here.

My sweaty neighbor was standing in my garage asking to borrow a drill. (It had something to do with his daughter’s swing set). Turns out, the battery to my Ryobi cordless drill was dead as a doornail –as usual. But then, I remembered that I had another drill, a much better drill. A Craftsman electric drill to be exact. I was about to offer it to him when the thought hit me, “Will I ever get it back?”

While I don’t believe for one moment that it was in my neighbor’s heart to take advantage of me, was I willing to suffer loss in order to demonstrate the gospel through this act of kindness? Let’s suppose this neighbor’s motives were of a devious nature. Let’s also suppose that I even knew he had the type of project that could cause harm to a drill, and although he had a drill, he chose to ask to use mine in order to save the wear and tear on his own drill. If you were in my situation, would you still loan it out?

Perhaps the issue is not loaning. Perhaps there’s resistance to simply give something away. Or, perhaps the situation calls for you to buy something for them that you feel pretty sure they could buy for themselves?

I remember a moment when a neighbor needed cat litter. (I don’t have cats, but have you ever checked into the price of cat litter? It isn’t cheap!) Can I afford to spend $ 50 on cat litter? Was I willing to do it whether or not he paid me back? If we’re honest, in our worst moments, we do these mental calculations.

No one wants to be taken advantage of. But are we willing because we will be taken advantage of—eventually. Jesus was willing to be taken advantage of. He fed thousands of hungry people who came for the bread, but not the Bread of Life.

Jesus was willing to go far beyond being taken advantage of; he died for us, the Bible says, “while we were still sinners”. When Jesus died, he was shown absolutely NO sense of appreciation by the people he did it for. He knew this and did it anyway…and did it with joy.

If we’re going to reach our neighbors for Christ, we need to be willing to be taken advantage of. It is as we first find our own joy in what Jesus has fully accomplished for us, despite how we’ve taken advantage of him, that we will be willing to serve others, at great cost to us.