Family Communication Rules

One of the most commonly given reasons for family breakdown and breakup is communication. We all complain about it in our families — “X never listens/talks to me!” — but we often don’t seem to know what to do. For the next few weeks in this blog space I’d like to talk about some sound, Biblical rules for communication. These rules of communication will apply to more than just families — in case you’re single — they also apply to churches, friends, and even enemies. So let’s start with…

Rule 1, Listen and let the other person finish talking

Communication is about way more than just talking. It’s also about listening. It’s often hard to remember this, when we are in the midst of a heated discussion. Com’on now, we all know what we tend to do in such “discussions”: 1) we want to make sure that we get in our side of the argument and we want to persuade the other person, and 2) while the other person is speaking we are either a) thinking about what we want to answer to their side of the issue or b) (even less helpful) we are interrupting. But God’s wisdom says listen.

The wise king Solomon taught, “He who gives an answer before he hears, It is folly and shame to him.” Proverbs 18:13. Listen. You may have been in the frustrating position of starting to say something and a spouse of child has answered sharply to what they thought you were going to say—and they were wrong. That’s why it’s folly and shame. That’s not communicating. Real communicators always grant to others the courtesy of listening.

What is listening? It’s not about just hearing the noise being made. Listening is about really hearing what’s being said. It’s not about multitasking a withering rejoinder. It’s not about only hearing the first 3 or 4 words. It’s about giving someone our full attention and focus. It’s about hearing their words and meanings and intentions—not your boss’ from today or your parents’, when you were 15. Are you really listening to what’s being said?

And listening actually takes a little time. This is captured in what James said about listening, “This you know, my beloved brethren. But everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger;” James 1:19. Please notice the “slow to speak and slow to anger” part. In other words, good listening requires a bit of self-control, reining in our impulse to “get our side out there”. Are you slow to speak?

Someone has well said that it is more important to understand than to be understood. While we all want to be understood, when we understand the other person, we are far more likely to be able to answer their complaint and find a real solution. Do you seek more to be understood or to understand?

Now, of course, the other side of this is that if you are the one talking, don’t dominate the conversation. Nothing will turn a sincere listener off quicker than a lengthy monologue. Few people listen to a rant. You don’t have to completely vent your entire spleen at one time. It’s only fair to take turns; and it will give your listener a chance to really listen and understand you—and communicate with you, too. Sometimes when people complain most about poor communication in their home, they’re really saying, “Nobody’s listening to me.” Do you do more talking than listening?

Are you a good communicator? Are you a good listener? Even when you’re in an argument? Let’s all be better communicators.

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 5; Pray and Fight For It

Over the past several weeks I’ve been writing occasionally about overcoming tough sins. We started right after New Year’s Day, because that is the traditional time for making resolutions about improvements for our lives. We have talked about how some sins are just tough to overcome and we’ve considered the strategies of separating ourselves from bad company and bad influences, changing the channel, getting someone to be an accountability partner, and watching how others overcome similar problems in their lives. This will be the last in this particular series of bulletin articles on this subject but I think this “strategy” point is utterly crucial: we must persevere in prayer and in fighting to overcome. These were the two things that we see in Jesus’ own life most often as He Himself wrestled with temptation.

Jesus prayed, and prayed, and prayed. In fact, before His greatest temptation and trial, the trial and cross, He prayed from the moment He arrived at Gethsemane to the moment the soldiers arrived to arrest Him—likely hours. He prayed so earnestly and intensely that He sweat drops of blood according to Luke 22:44. Not only this, He urged the apostles, especially Peter, James, and John, (Mark 14:38) “Keep watching and praying that you may not come into temptation; the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak.” Did you get that last part? The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak; does that sound like a familiar struggle in your resolution? Jesus’ solution: pray; stay awake and pray!

It is often said, but too seldom grasped, we have no idea how much power we neglect, when we fail to earnestly and persistently pray in faith. The same Person who created the entire universe (seen and unseen) is “at the other end of the line”—and we even have a mediator and advocate appealing to Him on our behalf! We can overcome even the toughest of sins by praying to God about them in faith. The prayer won’t take away the temptation; but we can be strengthened in the inner man through the Spirit, and as we obey the Lord’s command, we’ll find increasing ability to resist the sin and continue to obey God.

And we must persevere in the fight. It would be wonderful if saying no to the sin once would defeat it forever, but it’s not that way. At the end of what is known as the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness Luke records (Luke 4:13), “When the devil had finished every temptation, he left Him until an opportune time.” Satan didn’t take this defeat as final; he only left Jesus until another opening presented itself. Satan is nothing if not persistent. This means that we must continue to fight for the progress and victories that we’ve won. Sin and temptation will continue to wait at the doorstep of our hearts hoping to wear us down and wear us out until we give in. But we must be vigilant, watchful, and determined to stand firm against Satan’s ambushes, traps, and surprise attacks. We must be like Paul, who was concerned about the attack of discouragement against the Corinthian brethren: (2 Corinthians 2:11) “so that no advantage would be taken of us by Satan, for we are not ignorant of his schemes.” You have to continue fight for the gains.

Some temptations are really tough; they’ve sunk their claws deeply into our hearts and our “flesh”. But just because they are tough doesn’t mean that they’re indomitable. Our God is tougher than any sin and His wisdom has given us the strategies we need to overcome even the toughest ones. Even better, when we occasionally do fail and later repent, our God forgives. How great is our God!???

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 4; Watch Others Do It Right

Over the last few weeks I’ve been writing about how to overcome especially difficult sins in our lives. I’ve discussed eliminating the bad company in our lives who encourage sinful be- havior, learning how to change the channel, and finding someone to whom you can be account- able. This time I’d like to talk about the power of watching others doing it right.

There is a significant advantage to watch- ing someone else do what you want to do. It’s the way that we first learn all the essentials of our early life about how to get along with others, how to be a parent and spouse, how to deal with emotions, and so much more—we watch and emulate. Consider what we learn in school: classroom stuff is fine, but watching the teacher, seeing how something is actually done is way more than half the learning. That’s why schools have labs and workshops and why they demand internships for many disciplines before they will give you a diploma. Seeing how things are done, the nuances, the little “tricks”, the right order in which to do them, etc. are extraordinarily impor- tant in obtaining skills of all sorts, professional and personal. The Lord Himself knows this and it is part of the reason that Jesus came to the world as God’s Word. He knew that telling us to love one another is one thing, but that showing us what love looks like and how it acts is better by far. Jesus told us how to live, yes; but more than that, He showed us how to live.

So also, overcoming the stubborn sins in our lives will often include finding someone in the church who have had godly outcomes, have gotten the upper hand over the sin or sins that you struggle with. Once you’ve found them, ob- serve them: what they do, what they say, what their attitude seems to be, and all the other little details of how they deal with the sin you seek to overcome. You may want to tell them that you’re observing them, so that they don’t think you’re merely stalking them. Though most brothers or sisters will be humble about their struggles, most will also understand and be happy to tell you what they know, to help you toward your growth. Mere observation can be especially effective in learning how to parent or be a godly marriage partner; find those who’ve experienced success and watch.

Perhaps, the sin you seek to overcome is one that doesn’t lend itself to casual observa- tion: for example, what do you do to avoid get- ting angry and out of control? You may need to talk with them. Share with them what you seek to overcome; tell them that you’ve observed that they seem to have gained skills that you’d like; and ask them what they do, how they think, what they don’t do, how they dodge or tone down the power of the temptations. Then ob- serve them some more and take their advice on several test runs. Come back to them and share your results, ask more questions, fix the mis- takes, and obtain the spiritual skills through practice.

I mention practice, because very few will get it right the first few times. When children be- gin to learn how to ride a bicycle, they will watch others do it, they will ask mom or dad how it’s done, but then they will have to get on the bike and obtain the skill. It will include more than a few failures and skinned knees, a few adjust- ments, the coordination of pumping legs, bal- ance, and handle bar adjustments; but in time you start to get it. There still might be further spills as you hit sand the first time, try to do a “wheelie” on the bike, or simply forget to watch where your going; but you learn and get better.

The flesh is powerful. Bad habits are stubborn. Satan is crafty. But don’t get discour- aged. With the Lord’s guidance, Christ’s exam- ple, the Spirit’s help, the church’s encourage- ment, and your own heart’s desire to please the Lord, you can overcome! Don’t forget, 1 John 4:4 “You are from God, little children, and have overcome them; because greater is He who is in you than he who is in the world.”

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 3; Get Someone to be Accountable To

The last couple of posts in this series have dealt with the influences around us and how to “change the channel”. But there is more that can be done to help us in making the changes in our lives that the Lord calls upon us to make in our lives. Especially tough sins may require someone to be accountable to, an accountability partner (AP).

Now, of course, we’re always accountable to God, He sees everything we do, knows everything we think, hears everything we say, and will hold us to account for all of it on Judgment Day. The problem is that we human beings don’t see Him with our eyes of flesh; we don’t literally see His disappointment or literally hear His rebuke. And this is why it can be useful to ask a trusted brother or sister to hold us accountable regarding those difficult things in our lives that we want to change.

The New Testament gives us a foundation for such helpers in our lives. Galatians 6:1, 2 tells us, “Brethren, even if anyone is caught in any trespass, you who are spiritual, restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness; each one looking to yourself, so that you too will not be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and thereby fulfill the law of Christ.” One of the reasons we gather together weekly is for such encouragement: (Hebrews 10:24, 25) “and let us consider how to stimulate one another to love and good deeds, not forsaking our own assembling together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another; and all the more as you see the day drawing near.” Likewise, 1 Thessalonians 5:11 says to, “…encourage one another and build each other up…”

There are several things that could be said about how to go about doing something like this, but here are a few rules to work with…

  • Find a trusted and reliable brother or sister to be your AP. Once chosen, take the him or her fully into your confidence. Share what you want to change, what your temptations are, what your challenges are, where your likely to fail, and some of the reasons that you want to change (there ought to be more than one—the most important being the Lord, of course).
  • The second step is one that is easy to do, but hard to live with: Give permission to your AP to ask tons of tough, uncomfortable questions. Generally speaking, one of the biggest obstacles to changing the tough sins in our lives is that most of us are pretty at generous excusing ourselves for our bad behavior, words, attitudes, or thoughts. Part of having an AP is keep us honest with ourselves, expose our excuses as unacceptable, and call sin a sin. That is made possible, only if the AP has your permission to ask you hard personal questions. And when the hard questions come, confess freely. Nothing is gained by keeping things back.
  • Meet regularly without fail. You and your AP will have to determine when to meet and how often; but when those plans have been made, you must commit yourself to faithfully to make your appointment. Sometimes when a person has failed, the instinct to hide (just like Adam and Eve) kicks in—in the form of discovering that you had another not-to-be-missed appointment, or conveniently forgetting the AP appointment, or something else. There are things to be learned from failure, that you and your AP can and should talk about.
  • Set up a number of small goals and celebrate wins. As you and your AP set things up, it can be really useful to set up goals—tiny goals—for yourself. Why tiny goals? First, tiny goals are more doable than big ones. Second, just because they are tiny doesn’t mean that progress isn’t being made; lots of tiny successes start adding up to larger and larger successes. And as you find success in the tiny goals, celebrate! Another reason to have an AP is to have someone to celebrate your success with.

If overcoming some sins in your life is proving more difficult that you thought, an accountability partner just might help. And let’s talk about our spiritual “Accountability Partner” next time.

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 2; What’s Going on in Your Mind?

A week or so ago I began a series of postings on things that could help us to overcome tough sins. We started with bad company corrupting good morals (or intentions). Hopefully you’ve worked on changing the people and kind of entertainment that you “associate with” that influence us in a worldly way.

Another thing that is helpful is learning to “change the channel” of our hearts and minds. Jesus warned us, )Matthew 15:19) “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders.” In other words, what we think about and dwell on will come out in our words and deeds. So, if we want to stop certain kinds of words or deeds, we need to think different things—or put another way, “change the channel”.

A lot of people have never even considered that they could change what they’re thinking, but it is not only possible, it is required of the Christian. Romans 12:2 says “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” So, how do we do this?

First, we should go back to the “bad company corrupts good morals” principle, because changing the channel is going to be hard, if there are others who want to keep our minds on the wrong channel. But secondly, if we want to be less critical of others, we need to stop dwelling on the negative, what’s not quite “right”, and what happens to irritate me. If we want to be more active in the Lord’s service; we need to stop telling ourselves that others will do it, that we’re not talented enough, that there are other more fun or interesting or less challenging things that we could do instead. If we want to be better at attendance, we need to stop thinking that we need our rest, that church isn’t all that important, or that church is a lesser priority than other things. Hopefully you get the drift of what we must stop.

But how do we do that? The more we think about not thinking about “X”, the more we think about it! It just becomes a vicious circle, right?

Successfully changing the channel must include more than stopping certain kinds of thinking, it also includes starting the right thing to think about. Psychologists sometimes put it this way, “To stop thinking about a brown cow, start thinking about a purple horse.” To use the illustrations above, if we want to be less critical of others, we need to start thinking about all the positive we can about others. Start small and you’ll find increasing things to think positive about others. If we want to be more active in the Lord’s service, start thinking about all the things that need to be done around the church and for the Lord’s kingdom. Rely in faith on the Lord to stretch you beyond what you think you can do; and be humble enough to ask for help, when you need it. If you want to be a better attender, think of how important attendance is to your soul, how great the fellowship is, how important the Lord says it is, what you can do to encourage others, and how pleased the Lord will be with your presence and worship.

Changing the channel of our minds will take some time and planning and effort until new patterns and habits are formed, but it is one of the most effective way to overcome tough sins. Change how you think, renew your mind, and you’ll change your world!!

Persevere on those good resolutions, brother and sister! With the Lord’s wisdom, with the Spirit’s strength, with the church’s encouragement, and with your focused will to follow Jesus, you will overcome!

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Overcoming Tough Sins, Part 1

OK, so here we are several weeks (at this point) into 2018. How’re your new year’s resolutions? I’m hopeful that you’re doing well, but if you’re like many of us, you’ve had a stumble or two already. Is it time to throw up the white flag and give up? No; it’s time to double down on those good intentions, examine what happened on the stumbles, and overcome!

But how? For the next few weeks, let’s talk about a few things that can help us overcome. These will be things that we often already know, but overlook. We’ll start with the principle: (1 Corinthians 15:33) “Do not be deceived: ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.’”

One of the great enemies of our great intentions for spiritual growth is the way that other people around us live. God created us as social beings; and no matter how independent we’d like to think we are, we will be influenced by others. That’s why Paul started the principle of 1 Cor. 15:33 with “Do not be deceived”. From language to bad eating habits, to attitudes, to substance abuse, to even faith—the behavior, attitudes, etc. of others influences us deeply.

And by the way, the influence of others is not just the people that we are physically around. These days we have more “company” than ever in the history of the world in the form of: TV (how many hours of this do we do per week?), music (how many hours?), internet (how many hours?), social media (how many hours?)—all of it available in “technicolor”. And how much of the TV, music, internet, and social media is wholesome, G-rated, in other words, something that you would not be ashamed to do, say, or be entertained by in front of the Lord?

“But I just filter out the bad stuff” we may answer. Yes, if we are sincerely trying to be disciples of Jesus, we must and probably do filter out a lot. We must be in the world but not of the world (John 17:15,16). But let’s talk about filtering.

Sometimes filtering begins with eliminating big chunks. What about the genre of your music that might be continually filled with glorifying lust and sexual sin, violence, or rebellion? What about some of the TV shows that you watch that consistently model bad attitudes, worldliness, and acceptance of sinful lifestyles. How about your social media or favorite internet sites? Or even—here’s the really tough one—your circle of worldly friends.

“Is that really necessary?” you may ask. Paul replies, “Do not be deceived, ‘Bad company corrupts good morals.”

“Then, who will I associate with? What kind of music will I listen to? It will be so awkward to unfriend some folks. And my TV shows!! Won’t things get boring?” The fact that we think non-worldly friends, TV, music, etc. will be boring says something about how much we’ve already been negatively influenced by them, doesn’t it? Good isn’t more boring, sin isn’t more interesting. “Interesting” is defined by what we choose to find interesting.

But to answer the question of who will I associate with, well there are your Christian friends, right? There are more wholesome TV shows on, more wholesome music available, etc. If it is true that bad company corrupts good morals; it is also true that good company will promote good morals. Substitute good influences for bad ones and you’ll be surprised at how much easier the good, godly things that you want to add to your life will become.

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The Marks of Commitment

I was reading a fortune cookie the other day: “Punctuality is a mark of commitment.” Now, I don’t take fortune cookie philosophy too seriously, but it did cause me wonder, “Is that true, and what are the marks of commitment?” And perhaps, more importantly, “Am I committed to the Lord?”

First, yeah, I think that punctuality is a mark of commitment. It is what one does, when we love something (or someone). It shows a readiness and an eagerness to get on with the job ahead. I can almost guarantee you that your employer thinks so. Do we demonstrate punctuality in the Lord’s work?

Volunteerism is another manifestation of commitment. Committed people don’t wait around for others to volunteer for things that need to be done to accomplish the mission. Volunteering says, “I believe in this and want to be involved in this!” After Isaiah’s vision and cleansing, the LORD asked, “Who shall we send?”; Isaiah’s hand shot up, “Here am I, send me!” Do we volunteer readily or do we hang back hoping that others will do what we could?

Committed people also are willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the mission. It doesn’t matter if it is hard, unpleasant, humble, or even strange, as long as it makes a contribution to the larger cause. The committed person is just happy to be part of something larger than himself. Paul tells us, “Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure.” 2 Corinthians 11:24-27. Are we willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish the Lord’s mission?

Related to the willingness to do whatever it takes is the willingness to sacrifice lesser things to do what needs to be done. Committed people act sacrificially; whether it’s time, effort, talents, money, leisure, or advances in this life they are considered expendable. Paul said, “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” Philippians 3:7. Are we willing sacrifice for the Kingdom?

Endurance and persistence are also marks of commitment. Committed people don’t give up easily. Knowing the importance of the cause, committed folks continue to work without giving up. Twenty-four times the New Testament encourages disciples of Jesus to endurance (hupomene, courageous, active service to the very end). Do I persevere in the Lord’s business or do I throw in the towel, when the going gets tough?

Commitment also is willing to serve the mission even when others abandon it. Some will abandon the battle, and when they do they give aid to the enemy, because it is discouraging to those who continue on. But the committed do continue on. Do we continue to serve even when others have fallen away?

And finally, commitment doesn’t offer half-measures. Commitment is “all in”, “no holds barred”, and “leaving it all on the field”. Jesus in His life and on His cross was clearly committed to you and me. Are we as committed to Him?

So, are you committed. I’ll confess I’ve got some work to do on myself. How about you? Are you really committed to the Lord and His great cause of salvation for all men?

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