More to come…

                              Sermon Study Thoughts for 100216
Text: 2 Timothy 1:1-14;

Also: Habakkuk 1:1-4; 2:1-4; Luke 17:5-10

Even when things in our lives look bleak, we can trust that God is not finished with us.
There is yet a word from God for us and work yet for us to do.
Even a little faith in these promises can move mountains.

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It is easy to become discouraged. Life is hard. Bad things happen, even to good people. Bad people seem to get away. Justice is often left incomplete.

These are of course oversimplifications of complex situations, but the sentiments nonetheless ring true. Life is hard, and frustrations are sure to come. Whether at work, in our personal relationships, or with our community and society on a larger scale, things often don’t go as we think, feel and believe that they should. We imagine that if we were in charge things would be better. (Forgetting in the process the many times we have failed, fallen short, let ourselves and others down.)

On the landscape of our national consciousness several things loom particularly large right now. In particular, the presidential election process between two polarizing candidates, and the long-simmering and now growing and increasingly public tensions between “the police” and “the African-American community”. In both situations, it is easy to become discouraged, even fearful. It is easy to develop growing mistrust and cynicism toward “the other side”. Again, we think if only we were in charge we could make things better. But we are not, and feel that things may not get better.

First a reality check. Things are so much better in almost every conceivable measure of health, wealth and prosperity. The poorest of the poor in the USA enjoy more comforts than working class families of a century ago. Life expectancy has increased. Access to simple necessities and creature comforts has widened dramatically. Racism, oppression and related violence have decreased dramatically from a few generations ago. The conversation has shifted, but perhaps we’ve been lulled into complacency within the majority culture – absence of violence has been mistaken for peace and harmony.

God’s shalom is not simply a cease-fire. It is universal flourishing and a balance of wellbeing rooted in shared rhythms of work and rest. We are a long way from that, however far we have come. By many accounts we are disconnected from our own bodies, from one another, from the earth that provides our nourishment, and from the God who created us, sustains us, and redeems our sufferings.

So we have both reason to give thanks and reason to hope for more. If we focus too much on either our blessings or our challenges the result is a distorted view of reality undergirding ill-fitting and unproductive actions.

As Paul writes to his student Timothy, we do not know the full extent of the circumstances that have prompted the letter. Timothy has become discouraged by some series of events in his life and ministry. He’s gotten distracted perhaps by the headlines, or by the shiny things in the culture around him.

Paul comments Timothy toward several things that are also instructive for us:

  1. Remember the faith of your ancestors – the faith in which you were raised. This is similar to parents calling out toward their children who walk out the door for a night or weekend away, “Remember who you are and where you come from…!” Again, we lack specifics, but it was apparently enough for Timothy simply to recall the faith of his mother and grandmother.
  2. Remember the gifts of God that you have already received and expressed. God has already blessed you and worked through you to bless others. Whatever is going on right now is neither the beginning nor the end of your story. AND, you have the ability and responsibility to stir up that gift, to call it forth and put it to use – to exercise those muscles.
  3. Remember the power of God that was at work in Jesus Christ, that you have seen at work in me, and that is at work in you. The things which have been done are not by your strength alone. Yes, you are a participant, but not a solitary agent acting on the world. You are interdependent with God to fulfill the Gospel call.
  4. Remember that the hardest part is already done! Death has been conquered. There is nothing left to fear. There is nothing of which to be ashamed. No limitation that remains is greater than the love of God that is already at work in you.

Everything Paul suggests here is encapsulated within the brief text from Luke 17:5-10 in which Jesus invites us to exercise faith as small, humble and simple as a mustard seed, trusting that even this much true faith might move mountains in our life and world circumstances. The promise is not that all of our problems will evaporate immediately. “Every valley lifted and every hill made low” is a promise for a future time of kingdom fulfillment (Isaiah 40:4). What seems to be at work here is that “Yes, the struggle is real, but God’s power is greater. Strength and courage are available to you to persevere and overcome the obstacles before you for the sake of the Gospel – so that all people might live in the truth that “our Savior Christ Jesus, … abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” (2 Timothy 1:10).

In order for others to believe and receive this promise we ourselves must first live and walk in it. This means that we will no longer be held back by fear or shame. We will not cower before things that seem too difficult for us. Perhaps we have tried before and failed. The crucifixion looked like failure in the short term also. But God redeemed the suffering and life conquered death. The promise is that this same power is at work in us by the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. Whatever has been, and whatever now is, let us rest in the promise of God that there’s more to come.

“Getting to ‘NO'”

I am looking forward to leading the 2pm workshop for the DFW International Facility Management Association (IFMA) FMEXPO at the Irving Convention Center at Las Colinas. Dale Hansen is the keynote speaker, so I guess I’m like the warmup band?

Excited about the topic: “Getting to ‘NO'”: “Learn to have productive conversation around difficult issues, enable all parties to feel that they have been heard, and then say, “No.” For many, one of our first words was no, and yet we often have trouble saying it. Understanding the factors behind our own resistance will equip us to develop confidence and collegial humility in our interactions with others when we need to say no, as well as when we are told no. The goal is to maintain good working relationships while pursuing the needs of all interested parties.”

Facility Managers are the folks behind the scenes that keep everything moving. Pulled in multiple directions from top, bottom and horizontal, they have to maintain an even keel, balance competing wants and needs, and as often as possible leave folks feeling that they’ve been heard and their interests matter. This is a difficult task under any circumstances. I’m excited to offer them some additional resources and help them practice to further enhance these skills.

GETTING TO NO

William Ury wrote The Power of a Positive No as a follow-up to the original Getting to Yes, cowritten with Roger Fisher, and ten years later Getting Past No. His premise in the most recent book is that it serves as a prequel to the earlier two, laying the groundwork for the entire endeavor. Getting to Yes focuses on the outcome, Getting past no focuses on the objections of the dialogue partner, while The Power of a Positive No focuses on the self. Getting to no requires, according to Ury, understanding what our highest goals are, what we most want in the long run, rather than what we want in this moment. Acknowledging these Yeses enables us to prioritize toward needs over wants, away from immediate gratification, and to choose response over reactivity.

Learning to Not React to Criticism

I just read a thoughtful post by Erin Wathen over at Patheos.com entitled “The New Anonymous”. She was actually responding to an earlier and equally helpful post by Matt Rosine on his blog Mosaic: Stop Writing Anonymous Letters and Stop Reading Them Too.  Whether the anonymous criticism comes written on paper or across cyberspace, it can be hurtful. It is typically mean spirited, though the author likely considers themselves writing out of genuine concern, and perhaps even in “Christian Love”. I have found that some people are even willing to own their criticisms as they send them, whether privately or publicly. These people may even be claiming scriptural justification for their actions, quoting things like “…speaking the truth in love…” from Paul’s letter (Ephesians 4:15).

While I agree that we should not react to such messages, I do not agree that we should refuse to read them or ignore them once read. The critique is carrying several messages, which can be helpful to the leader, even if no direct response is offered. If we as leaders are going to step into those troubled and troubling waters, then we need to prepare ourselves adequately for what comes.

Leading with strength requires that we not respond from a place of anxiety. This can be difficult, particularly under such pressure as these messages carry. Being non-anxious, or more accurately “less anxious” is a primary focus of Family Systems Theory.

Once we have the insight, we still need some technique. That is where Crucial Conversations from VitalSmarts becomes very useful. This resource gives us additional insights for how to remain in conversation with people when we find this difficult. The book then gives specific steps for what to do and why. It is filled with examples of practical application. The digital version also includes links to online resources including videos.

Knowing what to do, and being able to do it, are two entirely different things. Many clergy and other leaders experience peer learning groups and supervision wherein they practiced an Action/Reflection model of training and formation. After these periods of formal training, many leaders have little or no opportunity for ongoing support in their development. Working with a coach, mentor or peer group on these principles can help develop the insights and grace to remain connected while differentiated. Gather a group of peers, in person or online, and support one another in this shared journey toward maturity and wholeness. Working with a trained mentor, facilitator and coach can be a great enhancement to this experience. Contact me if you would like to explore some options and would like help forming a group.

Dealing with the pace of change

Change is a fact of life. Everything changes, from the moment it comes into existence it is in a state of flux, growing, transforming, decaying. Sometimes we view this process as beneficial and healthy, while at others we deny, restrain and even fight change. Fighting change is like trying to restrain the wind or water of a storm – ultimately, nature wins.

We have the opportunity to choose our attitude toward change – fear or hope, resistance or embrace, conflict or adaption. Some people seem to have a greater capacity for peace in the midst of change, and for adaptability as the situation dictates.

Family systems theory gives us considerable insight into how we experience anxiety in ourselves and the system in the midst of change. Often one person will take on the anxiety for the system, particularly if others are remarkably, and seemingly irrationally, calm. The anxious person (identified patient) will think, if not outright say, “What is wrong with you people? Don’t you see what’s going on? Don’t you recognize the grave dangers?!” This individual may absorb and express enough anxiety for everyone.

Each individual’s capacity remaining non-anxious through change is a result of their personality disposition, family of origin influences, and experience and training. Some people have a natural head start when it comes to dealing with change and anxiety. Others develop this capacity over time, perhaps through hard fought personal battles and hard won emotional maturity.

When we interact in pastoral care settings, we frequently are working with people who are facing significant changes and experiencing the ramifications of that situation. We need to recognize that each of these persons is part of their own system (family, friends, community) as well as being part of a system with us (care-giver and care-receiver, organization, institution, etc). And finally, each of us is a system within ourselves – body, mind, soul and spirit, intellect and emotions, thoughts and feelings, memory and future anticipations. Our ability to reflect on the pace of change, and remain non-anxious in the face of other’s anxiety, will go a long way toward helping them find their way toward wholeness.

Think about a situation in your life where you have faced significant change. What anxiety did you feel? How did you handle it? What would you do differently now? What did you learn that you can share with others?

This article is a followup to George Bullard’s article: At what speed should congregations move?

Parenting Troubled Teens – an Introduction through the book Teens in Turmoil

Teens in Turmoil: A Path to Change for Parents, Adolescents, and Their Families

Maxym, Carol & Leslie B. York. New York, Viking, 2000.

Parenting is difficult, even when the family is fortunate to have a wealth of resources at their disposal. Each of us come with some relationship limitations, blind spots, and traps. Part of the work of maturing is working through and overcoming these things in the midst of our lives and relationships. This means that those around us get the joy of experiencing us when we are not at our best. And that may result in some distortions in their lives as well.

We may be part of the cause of other people’s brokenness, without necessarily being to blame. And regardless, at some point each person has to take responsibility for their own thoughts, words and actions, in so far as they are able.

Taking responsibility as parents: As parents, we need to take responsibility for our words and actions which with which we relate to our kids. We need to honestly assess: “Have I spoken or acted in anger?” “Have I been selfish in my parenting?” “Have I tried to make my child over in my image rather than nurture the image of God in her/him?” “Have I spoiled, neglected, disciplined too harshly or not enough?”

Once we ask these questions, when we see our own responsibility, and guilt, then we name it and ask forgiveness from those we have hurt. We make amends if there is something that can be repaired.

This process accomplishes several things. 1) it humbles us to the place where we are able to admit our mistakes and moves us from the pretension that we have ‘gotten it right’; 2) it moves toward restored and reconciled relationship by seeking to bridge the separations that mistakes of the past have created; 3) it models for others how they too can practice this kind of bold honesty with self and others.

We need to understand that God has already forgiven us, before we asked for it, and even before we were aware of our own failure or sin. God’s presence in the world through Jesus is the ultimate demonstration of God’s steadfast love and faithfulness. Will we still experience consequences of our sin? Yes. Does this mean that God does not love and care for us? No. Nothing you have done, are doing, or may do in the future can lessen God’s love and concern for you. What these sins do is to build up barriers in us that limit our ability to experience the love that God has toward us.

“Behavior is a metaphor, a way teens have of acting out the real problem. The real problem is the teenager’s attitude toward herself, toward others, and toward life. However a teen is acting out, beneath the surface of the actions and attitudes lurk the teen’s self-doubt, self-disrespect, and self-hatred, providing the rationale for behavior that is self-sabotaging (and self-destructive).” (Maxym, 17) [Emphasis and parenthesis mine]

COMMON BEHAVIOR-ATTITUDES OF TEENS IN TURMOIL (Teens in Turmoil, Maxym, 19)

  1. They don’t like themselves.
  2. They feel like failures
  3. They are demoralized and react with an I-don’t-care attitude toward school as well as others
  4. They are frightened and resentful
  5. They are self-absorbed, self-centered, and self-indulgent
  6. They lie
  7. They manipulate
  8. They test limits
  9. They are struggling with profound existential questions
  10. They are sabotaging themselves, their future, and their family.
  11. They are self-destructive.

If kids grow up expecting mom or dad to bail them out and rescue them every time, then when they have to take responsibility for themselves life becomes overwhelming.

“You cannot expect your life, your family’s life, your teen’s life to change without really changing yourself.” (Maxym, 59)

EXERCISE: Letting go of what you hate most

In your journal, let out what you have been keeping inside. Say it. Finally. Write down the five things you hate most about the way your son or daughter is living these days. Review the list of behaviors-attitudes above if that would be helpful. Is it her language? Is it the way he dresses? Is it the secrecy? The intimidation? The lies? Drugs? His girlfriend? The depression?

This is the time for you to stop the rationalizing and excusing altogether. What do you hate most? Write it down and consider hanging this piece of paper on your mirror. It will remind you that you do not have to accept language, behavior, or attitudes that are loathsome to you. You also have the right to a life.

EXERCISE: Getting rid of your guilt

Guilt debilitates. Guilt hurts. Guilt blurs your vision. Guilt hinders your judgment. Guild makes you unhappy. Guilt doesn’t bring anything very positive.

Do you ever wonder why you spend so much energy feeling guilty, even protecting your guild as though it were your most prized possession?

It is easier to cleanse your soul of guilt than you may have thought. You can leave your guilt behind, not only because at least some of it is imagined, but also because feeling guilty will only sap your energy, suffocate your love, and help you waste your life.

Write all the reasons you feel guilty for what your child is doing now. Keep the list with you for a short time – thirty seconds to a few days. Share it with someone you trust if that makes sense for you. Then get rid of it. Flush it down the toilet, throw it in the fire. Toss it into the ocean. Allow it to be released from your being. (Maxim & York, p62)

PART II Learning from other families shares a series of family stories

PART III Finding your own solutions returns to guiding you toward reclaiming your life

PART IV Resources and programs is for those parents who have decided that their teen needs more help than they as a family can provide

EXERCISE: Observing your family from a safe distance

We are often better at seeing the reality of other people’s lives, so this exercise lets you step back from your story and gain some perspective. 1) First write in the first person about an encounter with your troubled teen. 2) Next, take a walk or in some other way give yourself some space from what you have written. 3) Now rewrite it in the third person, as though it were happening to someone else. 4) When you read this new version, what do you see? How do you think about this “other family” and their situation? Write out your thoughts and talk with someone about what you notice. Ask what they see or hear?

Troubled Parents Troubled Teens .pdf

RESOURCE LIST:

REFERRAL LIST

Collin Count

*

Dallas County

READING LIST

Raising Cain

Boundaries – (for mother’s self protection

Larson, Scott. When Teens Stray: Parenting for the Long Haul. Ann Arbor, Vine Books, 2002.

Maxym, Carol & Leslie B. York. Teens in Turmoil: A path to change for parents, adolescents, and their families. New York, Viking, 2000.

Cline, Foster W, MD & Jim Fay. Parenting Teens With Love and Logic: Parenting Adolescents for Responsible Adulthood. Colorado Springs: Pinon Press, 1992.

Dobson, James. The New Dare to Discipline. Wheaton: Tyndale, 1992.

Oster, Gerald D. and Sarah S. Montgomery. Helping Your Depressed Teenager. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 1995.