Thursday, October 16, 2014

Brother of the Bride

Last Sunday, I watched my little sister walk down the aisle…
…swept away by her knight in shining amor.

 The only person I’ve ever prayed into being, finally the glowing bride she’d longed to be.

It was a beautiful day…in every sense of the word.

But it wasn’t easy...
…not even close.
Why, you might ask? Well…let’s just say I’m still figuring it out.

All I know is when the day first started, I wasn’t too sentimental. In fact, the brunt of any emotional barrage came in the form of parental sympathy, knowing they were just hours away from being official empty-nesters for the first time in almost thirty years.

Yet, as I watched my sister’s eyes sparkle, glimmering in the joy of her perfect man, I started to melt.

For my little sister wasn’t so little anymore.

Granted, she’s probably the most mature 21 year-old you’ll ever meet…

…not to suggest I’m just now noticing that.

Truth is: anyone who’s ever known my sister understands the elegant chic and class she’s always carried, not to mention her caring, compassionate core.

I mean…seriously, it’s not every day an older brother can honestly look someone in the face and say he looks up to his younger sister.

But here I was doing just that: looking up and seeing this hilarious, adventurous, fun-loving baby sister all grown-up, getting married as a dignified, sophisticated woman…

…wondering, ‘Goodness gracious. Where did the time go?’ …

…as if I was logging some future ‘Father of the Bride’ practice in.

Needless to say, I was stunned…lost in an awkward dichotomy between numb and ecstatic.

And so it came to pass that as everyone started busting moves on the reception dance floor, I stepped out to breathe, looking to find a moment of silence I could deposit my tears into.

Then it hit me: This was the end of an era.

Not just for my parents, but for a brother.

No longer was I my father’s wingman on my sister’s ‘favorite men list’. No longer was I her ‘step-in’ man of the house. No longer was I her ‘big’ brother.

I was just an older brother with a different last name.

And as I tried to process what felt like a melancholy tsunami, my mind started lighting up like a midsummer electrical storm…flashbacks of memories…good and bad…overwhelmed by thoughts of the better brother I could have been...wishing I could have somehow begun my period of being a man worth looking up to at a younger age.

You talk about an impassioned deluge. I was in it.

But ultimately, I remembered my love for my sister. And slowly but surely, the waves started to subside…and the once bittersweet symphony within started its decrescendo back to a more jovial tune.

True, I wasn’t in the mood for masquerading…

…yet, I couldn’t help but want to catch another glimpse of my sister walking on cloud nine…

…lit up in a way I’d never seen before.

So as I walked back in and rejoined the celebration, I applied the shudder to my photogenic memory and let loose.

‘Cause in the end, I realized: I love my sister… I love my family…and there’s no way I want to risk forgetting any part of this night.

Thus, it was a fitting way to embrace the start of a new era…

…recognizing that though times, names and roles change…  

…the bonds of family grows…and becomes tighter and stronger than ever.

And though my little sister is now a not-so-little, married woman, I can be even more grateful to be in this new season with her…

…whether it’s as a brother, a counselor, a fan or a prayer partner…

…however it looks…it’s going to be good.

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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Setting Boundaries in Bivocational Ministry (Part 2)

In part 1 of this series, we talked about the importance of intentional boundary-setting in ministry.

Today, we’re going to explore the difference between walls and boundaries…and begin an introductory discussion on how pastors can effectively establish these boundaries (whether personal, ethical or relational).
Let’s face it: You like being a mystery…camouflaging into an absorbed agenda…hidden behind the veil of an appointed title.

I know I do.

Granted, there are times when a desire for transparency wins me over.

But for the most part, I like the security of knowing I’m not easily decipherable. Just being honest.

Now, irony aside, you can tell I’m being conspicuous about my preference of being the exact opposite.

Yet, chances are, you’ve read this mail before and would, thus, diagnosis this as a wall-setting mindset (as opposed to a boundary-setting one).

However, not all cases are so conveniently cracked.

Why? Because it can be very challenging to discern the right ministerial boundaries, especially in an entitled era saturated with accessible information and self-centered tendencies.

But before we get too deep on the grey side (cough, social media, cough) of the issue, let’s first define the difference between a wall and a boundary.

When we talk about a boundary, we’re talking about a necessary limitation as authorized by God for us to employ. For instance, a true boundary protects us from idolatry, poor time management and relational drama…just to name a few.

And while it may be easy to think of boundaries in terms of protection, I believe they’re better considered as a means of stewardship. As the Bible clearly states (1 Corinthians 4:2, Titus 1:7-9, Matthew 25:20-21), God desires us to be faithful stewards of the time and resources He’s given us. So as ministers, it’s important to be fair and consistent in unbiased service and attention. This doesn’t mean you treat every counseling appointment as a timed therapy session or keep a ledger on every encouraging word that comes out of your mouth. Fact is: some people require more energy and love than others…and that’s okay. At any rate, when we’re plugged into God’s input, we’ll find all the help we need to enforce the right checks at the right time.

On the flip side, when we talk about a wall, we’re talking about an unnecessary blockade, often initiated by a stronghold (whether fear, anger, bitterness, guilt, etc.). Ironically, with walls, many are set up to draw (pun intended) attention…to inspire someone to come along and make an attempt to climb them (hello, manipulation); however, the problem with walls is they don’t constructively confront the issue, but rather take people further away from where God intended them to be. With this in mind, it’s not hard to see how walls are manufactured means to self-protection and, thus, not authorized by God.

So clearly, the goal is to establish boundaries (not walls) around our personal, ethical and relational commitments. Fair enough, right?

Well, not so fast, young padawan.

Doing so requires strategy, not to mention a continued posture of submission.

As mentioned in my last post, valuing boundaries starts with valuing the ways of God. And while it may be hard for people to wrap their heads around what God did on the seventh day, it’s nevertheless an imperative part of the boundary-setting process.
district_5110_foundation_stewardship‘Cause truth is: once we start to embrace rest as a key essential in our daily lives (yes, I said “daily”), only then will we want to lay boundaries out of a place of stewardship, as opposed to fear; only then, will be begin to see how removing the walls in our lives can create the space and initiate the desire to better foster what God has given us.

So as you finish off the week, I encourage you to examine the walls in your life. Ask yourself: In what places of my heart are walls set up? What inspired them…and what steps do I need to take to conquer term? Also, in what ways can my boundary-setting be more defined?

Then, after asking the Lord to break off the walls in your life…invite Him to replace them with the appropriate boundary and strategy. If you need to reconcile? Do it. If you need to forgive someone who has wronged you? Do it. If you need take a leap and go out of your way to bless another through a random act of kindness or word of encouragement? Do it.

‘Cause at the end of the day, setting boundaries is all about making God’s priorities, your priorities...about making His the heart the one you want people to see.

So here's to holy boundary-setting & cheers to the glorious journey ahead...

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Sunday, October 5, 2014

The Dangers of Self-Medicating

A couple months ago, my life went into a crazy tailspin.

For about a month, I experienced relentless stress, anxiety attacks…and the kind of fatigue that makes a sick day an attractive option just about every day.

At first, I figured I was simply enduring a transient anxiety episode (especially since I've had depressive ruts before, though not for prolonged periods of time). But once I realized this so-called “bug” was taking deliberate root within, I decided to run some self-diagnoses from multiple sources to determine what was going on.

It didn’t take belong before I discovered a cold, hard fact…

I had dysthymia
…a chronic depressive disorder with a paralyzing punch.

Considering I didn’t know a whole lot about the condition, I elected to keep a lid on the issue, fully convinced the struggle was better left concealed than revealed.

But after months of silence, I started to realize how siloing my struggle wasn’t helping anything.

So I wrestled…and wrestled…and wrestled some more. I prayed, talked to my wife, even opened up to my immediate family (which I don’t often do).

Interestingly enough, it wasn’t long after informing my family when my perspective started to change. Granted, discussing the matter was a small step; however, in hindsight, that “small step” helped me better understand the value in being intentionally transparent.
Thus, in the spirit of recent lessons learned, I want to share a simple reminder with you:
 You are not alone.

You may think no one cares or understands…or is going to even try to make a difference.   

You may think your personal battle is a necessary consequence of who you’ve been or where you’ve come from…and thus…will keep you from becoming who you really want to be.

You may think you’re not worthy of being set free of your despondency.

But I’m here to tell you:                               You are not alone.

You don’t have to accept depression as the solution to what you’ve been through.
You don’t have to mute your life to preserve respect.
You’re not a hopeless cause even though you may be overwhelmed by the mistakes you’ve made.
‘Cause at the end of the day, we were made by grace, for grace…to live freely as wonderfully made.

Thus, we don’t have to keep the duct tape over our mouths…or stubbornly retain our chains by some counterfeit remedy numbing us to the pain they cause.

And perhaps this is all hard to take in because you’ve abided by a certain deception for so long.

But take it from one who has screwed up time after time…who knows what it’s like to feel like a helpless underachiever …and what it’s like to pop pills of self-hatred (#notallcuttersuseknives):

If you’re medicating by self-loathing…self-abuse…basically, if “self” is in any way attached to your recovery plan, as the wise Josh Taylor says, “You’re doing it wrong.”

‘Cause when we self-afflict, we’re essentially slamming the door on reconciliation and opening the door for the enemy to contaminate our thought patterns and beliefs. So instead of receiving the forgiveness and healing we crave, we renew the terminal perspective we’ve bought into, which in turn, converts a stronghold into a drug we can’t put down.

In my case, in order to adjust course, I had to really dwell on the cross (in a heart-to-heart with God sorta way) and get completely honest about my afflictions (not only with God but other people as well). It wasn’t until I expressed my frustration and desire to change that I begun to understand how my bout with dysthymia was (and still kinda is) being influenced by the kind of fear-induced walls that not only shut people out as a means of self-preservation, but also shut God out as a means to withdraw.

Which for the record, have you ever wondered why we shut God out? Are we not, in a figurative sense, transporting ourselves back to the garden…to where Adam and Eve first withdraw and hid out of guilt and shame? Has the cross lost so much impact, we haven’t learned to respond differently over thousands of years of time?

Then why is it we still hide, cover up…and try to convince the world we’re okay, when we’re anything but? Or why is it we make life a ‘tiptoe on thin ice’ experience, forgetting we were called to have the kind of faith to walk on water? Is it because we’re terrified of being vulnerable in the proximity of other people’s fragile opinions? Is it because we want to believe we can handle the adversities of life our own?

Seriously…what will it take for us to realize how it is the broken heart that God is after (Psalm 51:17)…that because of the cross, we don’t have to hide our problems as a means to control how others see us?

‘Cause truth is: God desperately wants to be more than enough to you. He so desires to fill you up with His love to the point of overflow…so that there’s literally no room for us to fill our voids on our own terms.

And so, as I bring this blog in for a landing, I want to encourage you to think about the afflictions and addictions in your life (what you may be wrestling with, whether it’s a fear, an anxiety…or the after-effects of emotional and/or physical pain).

Then after taking inventory, lay it all on the altar, confess your brokenness to God, receive His grace…and speak life into present and future freedom by asking God to help you conquer your addictions, stress, depression, misaligned perceptions and diseases…all so that His glory and loving power may saturate your life.
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