The Winter of Our Discontent

Some people hate winter. I can understand the sentiment. The weather here in Missouri has been cold, windy, and snowy over the past few weeks. It has been an excellent time to stay inside where it is safe and warm, but we all know that this is just the beginning.

The writers of scripture don’t spend much time discussing the weather. Paul speaks of where he was going to stay through the cold months, and he wanted his friend Timothy to come and visit him before winter (2 Tim 4:21). The Psalmist writes that God created both summer and winter (Psalm 74:17).

I find this a curious notion as many of my conversations at Sunday morning worship have revolved around the topic of the weather for years. These range from the rain we wish would stop, to the rain we wish we would receive. Snow and winter also are hot topics and never escape the dialog of people both before and after they arrive.

Nowhere was the issue of winter more relevant than the five years I spent in Alaska. You prepare for the coming of winter all summer long. We would watch the mountains across that bay received snow that was called a “termination dust” as a sign that winter had almost arrived, and summer was terminated. As the winter wore on, we would complain about the shortness of sunlight and sadness of being trapped inside. The weather shaped not only our conversations but our very lives.

There is a line in Shakespeare’s play Richard III where the character speaks of our winter of discontent. I have been feeling that lately. The weather has made for a great dissatisfaction with life for me and others. Interestingly enough, his line is not one of despair, but of hope. Richard is celebrating his family’s victory and the coming time of peace. The line is about our winter being turned into summer. The frustration of one season will give birth to something new and better. It is so optimistic that is it reminds me of a line from the Apostle Paul.

In Philippians chapter four, Paul tells the Church that they need to learn to be content whatever the circumstances. He qualifies that with statements like whether we are in need or have plenty. Maybe he could have said, in winter and in summer. Then next he says, I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation. Finally, he gives us the key ingredient, “I can do all this through him who gives me strength. (Phil. 4:13).”

As winter settles onto our land, do not let it sink into your heart. God will get you through, and he will turn your winter of discontent into a summer of blessing. So when the wind cuts like a knife, the snow hits your face, and the kids are sick another day; Trust that God will give you the strength to make it through another day, and summer is right around the corner.

It’s Okay to Be Unavailable

The phone started vibrating. I glanced at it and looked away. For a moment, there was a guilty feeling. I thought, “Maybe I should answer. They know I have a cell phone with me all the time. What will they say if I don’t answer? I bet they will be mad.” Then I went back to my conversation. Within moments the call was done, and I glance to see that there was no voicemail. Nothing.

While I was holding the phone for a second, the phone started vibrating again – the same person. A second call, I thought, “It must be an emergency. I should probably get it this time.” I then wondered why they did not leave a voicemail. If it were important, surely they would have left a voicemail and kept trying. I placed the phone back on the table, and the vibration ended.

After about 15 minutes passed, the phone started vibrating a third time. This time my frustration level growing. I looked again, and it was the exact same person. This time I thought about answering and yelling or voicing my frustration. Instead, I placed it back on the table and ignored the call.

At this point in my story, you are probably having one of two thoughts. One is about my relationship with the caller. You might think that I don’t like that person or do not want to talk to them. Maybe I am angry, or I owe them money. None of those are the case. It was a friend with whom I have a good relationship.

The other thought is about me as a person. You might be thinking, “What a jerk. Answer your phone. Why have a phone if you are not answering when someone calls? What if it was an emergency? What if someone’s world is falling apart, and they need you?”

Now back to my story, I didn’t answer my phone because I was out with my family at dinner for my son’s birthday. Sure, I could have taken the call, but I wanted to be fully engaged with my family. I probably would not even have my phone with me in that situation, but there is the possibility of an emergency, and I would have answered if one of about ten numbers had called. Otherwise, my night was given to my family. Completely.

Here is a little piece of truth I want you to hold onto today; It is okay to be unavailable. In fact, I would encourage you to accept this as a preferred way to live. Just because you have a phone does not mean everyone gets an equal share of your time. Your spouse, your children, your parents, your family, and even your God need your attention. Everything else is a periphery.

Today I want to set you free. Let go of those feelings of guilt for not answering the phone. It is okay not just to put your phone on vibrate but to even shut it off occasionally. You need a break. Other people need you. You need to be free to enjoy the moments that God gives you.

I know for some of you this is not difficult. You don’t get the phone thing anyway. For others, this is terrifying. Know this, those who love you the most will find it a blessing in every way.

Overcoming “That Moment” in Marriage

If you ask most people who are divorced when they knew it was over, they can give you an exact moment. At the very least, there is a story they can point to where they knew they were in trouble. Through the years, I have asked dozens of divorced people, “When did you know it was over?” and they have given me the details of an interaction.

Interestingly, most of the time, it is not a story you would picture as being the end. It is not when he yelled and broke the dish. It was not when she admitted to an affair. It happened when they were talking, and something was said that was completely unexpected. One lady told me about dating for a few years, and on their wedding night, he took out the Gideon’s Bible and started reading it and making fun of it. For the next eight years, they were married; she could never shake the image. Another gentleman told me a conversation his wife was having with their children about how they need to get an education and not end up in a dead-end, manual labor job like daddy. Through the years, he had paid all the bills, put her through college, and suddenly he was a second-class citizen. He tried to stay together for the kids, but it fizzled as he could never shake that one conversation. I could go on and on listing people who saw or heard something that became this watershed moment in their marriage.

Here is the scary part, most married people I know hold onto a story like that in their mind. It is quite possible that you have this one encounter in the back of your mind that you are keeping as photographic proof that you are justified if your marriage ends. You have some horrific tale that you keep logged away that could become “that moment” when you knew it was over.

My advice to you today is simple. If you are married, then you need to let go of that moment. You need to forgive. You need to decide to not focus on it anymore. You need to write a new story into your mind. You need to focus on the positive. You need to talk about what happened with your spouse. You need to speak with a trusted Christian friend. You need to pray that God will overcome that moment. You need to seek counseling. You need to do everything within your power to remove that incident from being such a permanent fixture in your mind.

Here is what I am telling you; if you do not address that moment, it will eventually destroy your marriage. One day you will be telling your pastor about what happened and how you knew it would never work out. You will have a story to prove your spouse was a miserable person, and you were justified to end the relationship.

There is another choice, though. You can decide to work on that one scene from your marriage. You can focus your attention and find healing. You can find a reason to stay together that is far greater than any other moment. Sure, they may be numerous things wrong with your marriage, but getting past that one moment is the key to dealing with them all. Please, I beg you in the name of Jesus, work on it today.

What I Tell My Kids After a Game as a Christian Parent

Recently a friend asked me if I had written a post about what I say to my children after they have participated in a sporting event. While I have written on similar topics, I have never addressed this thoroughly. This I probably best because my words have changed through the years. Walking through sports with four boys and being down to my last year and a half of their participation has changed me. My views are different than 15 years ago when we started into youth sports. As a long-time sports parent and a Christian, here is what I say after the game.

  1. Did you have fun? Somewhere along the way, sports became something serious. Listen, it is a game. It is meant to be fun. If it is not fun, you should not participate.
  2. How do you feel? This is a two-fold question. First, how do they feel physically? When you take sports too seriously, your child will not tell you about their physical pain for fear of missing a game and disappointing you. Second, how are they emotionally? Coaches, teammates, and fans can be brutal with their words. Ask and let them share.
  3. Tell me about your favorite play. My kids have lost games by 50 points and still had fun. This is because there was that one play where they did that one thing, and it made them happy. They want to tell you about their joy.
  4. Did the coaches tell you anything on which to work? Do you feel there is anything you need to do better? This will often allow them to talk about their worst play. Coach says I need to do blank better is often inspired by their most embarrassing moment. Get it out into the open and talk about it. Acknowledge the mistake so that they can move on with their life.
  5. I Love You. I want my kids to know how I feel about them, no matter the outcome of the game. If they made the mistake that led to the other team winning, who cares? It is youth sports. My relationship with them will last long into the future when these games are barely a memory.

These are the most basic things I talk to my children about after a game. Sometimes all of these come up naturally and occasionally just two or three of them. These are the topics that always guide my conversations. I have quit trying to offer coaching advice unless asked. I might share insight into something I saw, again, only if asked. I keep stats at games so they can evaluate themselves on facts and not emotions. These days I always try to stay positive, win or lose.

One final word for all parents: I plead with you to not take sports too seriously. I have raised four incredibly gifted athletes, and three of them spoke with colleges about scholarships. It is a complete scam that colleges are running. They are not what you think. Unless your kid is an incredible physical specimen that is one of the top three players in your state, their scholarship opportunities are worthless. It will be a few thousand dollars for a way overpriced private school. I guarantee it will not be worth the money you spend, the time lost, and the headaches you endure for all those weekends of travel sports. Those events are offered to make money off you. You MUST understand this is true to enjoy this time with your children.

I pray you will allow your kids to enjoy this part of their life should they chose to play sports. I hope my words are an encouragement to you. May the Lord bless you as you live for him while raising teens in today’s highly competitive world.

The Message of Transformation

Recently I was reading through the book of Acts, and I noticed something I had missed in previous trips through it. Quite often I have spoken about the message of the early Church. Acts 4:20 says that the Apostles spoke about what they had “seen and heard.” This is a critical line. The Apostles did not travel around talking about what they believed; rather, they spoke about what they believed happened. Their sermons were lessons about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, of which they were witnesses.

For the first time, I noticed a different statement in Act 5:20. The New International Version of the Bible 2011 says, “tell people all about this new life.” Other translations say something like “tell them the whole message about this life.” It appears in the original Greek is “speak all the words of this life.” So, there is a little unclarity on how exactly to translate it accurately, but the critical thing to notice is the topic of their preaching in this story.

Peter and his companions are told by an angel to go and speak to the people. This time their words will not be only about the death and resurrection of Jesus, although I am sure they talked about that topic too; instead, it will focus on the life transformation of those who follow him.

One of the vital messages of the Christian faith is that following Jesus should be life transformative. It is not merely a call to believe in the historical events of his death, resurrection, and ascension, although those are intricate to salvation. The gospel contains within it a primary appeal to have your life radically changed as you follow Jesus.

This has almost limitless points of application for us. Those who call themselves Christians will be more loving, forgiving, encouraging, humble, compassionate, kind, gentle, and self-controlled. They will serve, give, and work for the good of God’s kingdom and not their own. Someone who believes that Jesus came, lived, died, was buried, and resurrected on the third day will attempt to live like Jesus every day in every way.

The Apostles are told to stand up and tell others about this new life. It should be a part of the message of the gospel. We do not just have a Savior, but that Savior wants to transform our lives. We should speak about it just like they did in Acts chapter 5.

What I know is your most powerful testimony to this truth will not be your words but your life. It is one thing to speak of the difference Jesus can make in your life and quite another to show it to others by your actions. Actions will always speak louder than words. Everything you do will show people what you really believe about Jesus. May your message this week be that Jesus has the power to offer us a new and better life. I pray your days are transformed by his grace.

Weekend Reading

Here are some of the best articles I have read over the past three weeks. Enjoy.

6 Members Who Build Up the Church – True. Very true

Does Your Church Offer Weak Community? – Something I have been saying for years and trying to find a remedy to it.

Reactions to John Crist’s Moral Failings Demonstrate Our Culture’s Confusion about Christianity

Eight reasons why introverts make great leaders – Yes and Yes.

Why Your Pastor Doesn’t Have Friends

What is the Trajectory of Your Life?

Trajectory is defined as the direction an object takes under a given set of forces. We usually think of trajectory when it comes to missiles, bullets, and arrows. It is an equally good word to use in a discussion of your life. What is the trajectory your life is taking under the current forces working on it?

  1. What is the trajectory of your faith? If you keep doing when you are doing right now, where will your faith end up in 10, 20, or 30 years? Will you have made a more significant impact on the world for God or be less of a factor? Will you be following Jesus more closely or be further away?
  2. What is the trajectory of your marriage? If you are to continue living with your spouse the same way you do today, where will your marriage be in the future? Will you be more deeply committed or divorced?
  3. What is the trajectory of your parenting? Will you have well-behaved Christ-followers who bring honor to their God and their parents in the future? Will you have children whom you must bail out of situations as they are only concerned for themselves?

Maybe these are not the most applicable to you, so you will need to fill in your own area. It can be your relationships with your parents, friends, coworkers, or anyone significant.

Where is your life headed? What path are you on in your faith, relationships, and every other area?

We tend to lie to ourselves and create some fictitious barriers. We tell ourselves that when the kids get past the toddler phase, everything will be better. When the children are no longer teens, everything will improve. We think that when we have more time, more money and are finally able to retire, life will be beautiful. Then we get there, and it is not what we thought.

Those factors are not what is keeping you from a closer walk with God, an intimate marriage or fantastic relationships. What is keeping you from those things are the decisions you make every day. You don’t wake up one day with deep faith; you make decisions day after day to move closer to your goal. You don’t magically have a great marriage when the kids are gone. It is the result of the work you do to talk, communicate, and connect now. Your relationship with your kids doesn’t improve the day they reach a certain age. It is the result of little deposits of time today, tomorrow, and every day into the future.

Your life is either on track to hit your goals or miss them. The coordinates are set. Your life is flying that direction. Are you happy with the ultimate destination? If not, today could be the first day of the life of which you have always dreamed. Make the adjustments necessary and change the trajectory before you hit your mark.