Monthly Archives

March 2017

Who Asks ‘Have You Spent Time With The Poor?’

What The Bible Says

When it comes to our relationship with God, we often get told to read our Bible, to pray, and to worship in private. These are all good and very important. But never/rarely has a preacher or accountability partner said to me, ‘How much time have you spent serving the poor this week?’ Doing this is part of relating to God himself.  

I’ve always been someone who’s struggled to keep a constant prayer life. I often go through times when it’s frequent and comes naturally. Then there are other times when it’s more hard work.

I find it easier to read my Bible and do a personal study, but this goes through the same highs and lows as well.

Finding God In Prayer and In People

In lots of talks, through Christian friends, in various groups, and in various ways, I’m constantly challenged to pray more. To read my Bible more. I often feel a mixture of guilt and inspiration at these points, but it’s important to hear and strive towards. (Read Guilt Is Individual, Shame Is Relational).

Why is knowing God reduced to reading and gaining more information?

It’s important because we need to spend time with God and get to know him better. He’s a God who wants to relate to us. He brings us into his family and calls us friend. However,  something that isn’t said enough is that this isn’t the only way to relate to God.

Jesus seems to very clearly teach that spending time with the poor, the outsiders, and those who need help, is part of meeting with God and relating to him. So why don’t I seem to get challenged to do that more? Why is knowing God reduced to reading and gaining more information?

The Sheep And The Goats

In Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus talks about the sheep and goats. In this story the sheep are ultimately welcomed into his kingdom (v33-34). They know God and are known to him. This is rooted in the fact that they looked after the poor, the needy, and those who needed help  (v35-36).

The goats, however, are ultimately turned away and rejected because they didn’t do these things. (v42-43).

This always scares me because both groups say they knew God and they both call him Lord (V37, 44). In other words, both groups are believers. But the goats are turned away because they did not help the poor.

We Need Both

I sometimes feel like, if I told a group of Christian that I haven’t prayed, sung worship songs or touched my Bible (app) all week, but I helped serve in a soup kitchen all day every day and visited people in prison, they would feel slightly uneasy.

In Matthew 25, meeting with God happens as we meet the poor

Yet if it was the other way round, and I said I was praying for ten hours every day, reading my Bible and singing God’s praises, but walked past a homeless person each day, then there would be less of a problem.

Now, I’m not saying we should only serve the poor and not open up our Bible (apps). But Jesus, in his actions and in his words, challenges, inspires and commands us to serve the poor. This isn’t an added extra, it’s part of knowing and meeting with God.

Meeting God

Our relationship with God must also involve serving and helping those who need help

In Matthew 25, meeting with God happens as we meet the poor.

Our relationship with God must involve prayer and reading our Bible. Yet our relationship with God must also involve serving and helping those who need help. It’s not an added extra thing we do between prayer times.

It’s worth remembering as we think about relationships and how we improve our vertical relationship with God, when we feel we’re just going through the motions, feel like something is missing, maybe we are missing an important element. (Read The Cross Deals With More Than Just Forgiveness, Right?)

Imagine If…

Imagine if we put lots of time into reading our Bible, worshipping God, and going out of our way to serving the poor and people who need help.

This week, what is the one thing you can do to help those who are hungry, thirsty, lonely, lacking clothes, ill, in prison, or needing help?

Do you hear enough emphasis on serving the poor in your context? Comments welcome below. 

Originally posted 13/3/2017

How To Communicate Well When We’re Annoyed

Relationship Difficulties

In our friendships, dating relationships, marriages, and family, we will get annoyed. It may be about big things or seemingly small things. Looking back, we may think it was justified or a bit over the top. But communicating well while we’re annoyed is vital unless we want to do damage and weaken our relationships.

I often talk and write about the need for good communication. Building healthy relationships, romantic or otherwise, needs good communication. Without it, our annoyances can grow and cause frictions, tensions, and damage our relationships.

Awkward Conversations

One of my friends is training to be a vicar. He told me in passing that he did a module on ‘having awkward conversations’ with people.

I was a bit surprised at first. It did sound like a lesson anyone would want to sign up to. However, he rightly said, leading a church and leading people, challenging their behaviour, bringing reconciliation, managing expectation, hearing people’s confessions, is awkward. In some ways, his job will be a series of awkward conversations.

Communicating well is a good skill we all need to learn and work on

To some people talking about feeling and issues comes naturally, while others struggle with it. There are some people we can easily talk to but it’s difficult with other people. There are some people we don’t need to say much to because they’re just on the same wavelength as us.

But communicating well is a good skill we all need to learn and work on. Communicating badly can weaken our relationships.

Communicating Well

A lot could be said on this topic, but what are some of the things we should be avoiding? In that moment of annoyance, here are some very straightforward and practical suggestions. When we are having the awkward conversation:

  • Don’t say ‘you are’
  • Don’t bring up past issues
  • Don’t argue about other issues

Don’t Say ‘You Are’

This I think, is the most important piece of advice.

I recently had to sit down and have a potentially very awkward conversation with a friend. I felt like we had been clashing a bit the last few weeks and snapping at each other. It had upset me, and I thought I was upsetting her to.

I felt like this after you said that…’

When we began to talk about it, instead of saying ‘You did this…’ or ‘You are…’, I said things like ‘I felt like this after you said that…’ Or ‘From my perspective, I thought this was okay….’.

I did joke that it was a bit like couples therapy language (don’t know if that made it more or less awkward!).  But saying things like ‘It made me feel’, or ‘I perceived it as’ shifts the focus from an abstract right and wrong to relational dynamics.

Often, no one is fully to blame. Focusing on relational dynamics lets you talk about how you can relate different next time, and also will help you reach conclusions and answers quicker without offending each other.

We felt like we understood each other’s personalities more, and came up with phrases that will help us, moving forward, to communicate better before we get annoyed.

Being less accusing, and using more helpful language when communicating, helps build relationships.

Don’t Bring Up Past Issues

If you have forgiven them and reconciled, it’s unfair to open up old wounds

For example, if you are arguing about money issues with a married partner, you can’t bring up the fact that they spent too much on Christmas presents two years ago. Or if a friend has cancelled on you, you can’t bring up the fact they forgot your birthday four years ago.

If you have forgiven them and reconciled, it’s unfair to open up old wounds. (If there is a series of bad spending habits, or a friend is letting you down, then there is a wider conversation that needs to happen. Read We Disagree, Can Our Relationship Survive?)

If this is an issue that has caused a problem, we can’t bring up related, forgiven and ‘forgotten’ events, to use as ammo. It will become very personal and won’t help deal with the issue that is annoying us now.

Don’t Argue About Other Issues

This is similar to the last bit of advice, simply put, don’t bring up other issues.

If you’re arguing with your friend about the way they spoke to you, don’t then bring up the fact they never helped you when you need a favour.

Stick to what you’re arguing about

If you’re arguing with your wife or husband about what colour to use when decorating your hall (or as my friend said, her and her husbands have ‘discussions’ about it) don’t the bring up the friend who is a bad influence.

Stick to what you’re arguing about. Again, it avoids making it personal and it allows you to address one thing rather than argue about lots of things without a healthy conclusion.

Communicating Is Key

More could be said. There is a lot of advice that could be helpful, but in our annoyance we must avoid saying things that are filled with negative emotions. We all need to learn to communicate about why the issue is annoying us, otherwise not only will the issue stay unresolved, we could weaken our relationships. (Read After Your Arguments, You Don’t Walk Out.)

Imagine If…

Imagine if you had less arguments and relationship stresses and conflicts in your life.

The next time you get annoyed, don’t say ‘you are’, don’t bring up past issues, don’t argue about other issues.

What good bits of advice have you had for communicating well? Comments welcome below. 

Originally posted 8/3/2017

One Thing We Should All Avoid When We Like Someone

Interesting Research, Relationship Difficulties

Liking someone is natural. Getting to know them, overcoming the fear, and getting excited is all part of it. But new research shows that when people like someone, their romantic desires may cause them to take on the other person’s character flaws in order to prove compatibility. It’s worth remembering, and actively avoiding this, as we date. 

I really like musicals. Whether live on stage or in films I really enjoy watching them. I was talking to a friend who said their favourite musical was Grease. They said it was a romantic story with a happy ending, and I said that wasn’t true!

Sandy And Danny 

At the end of the film the Sandy and Danny drive off into the sunset together to live happily-ever-after. (This is literally what happens, the car flys off into the sky and everything.) But Sandy changes herself from a sweet and gentle ‘girl next door’, into a rebel with a ‘bad girl’ image, so that Danny would go out with her.

Not very romantic at all really.

Sometimes in the excitement, we can get carried away

New research talks about the Grease example too, and suggests that this isn’t just seen on the big screen. It happens in everyday life with everyday people who like someone.

It probably won’t be as blatant or seem as dramatic as it is in Grease, but it does happen.

This is important because all relationships change us. Romantic or otherwise. (Read If A Relationship Doesn’t Change Me, Then It’s Not A Relationship.) But sometimes in the excitement, we can get carried away before we realise it.

Image Shift 

Now I always say that no one is perfect. Dating is not about finding the perfect partner who will sort out all of our mess. It’s about finding someone we are compatible with, enjoy being with, who we can grow with and feel safe with. That involves excepting people have flaws and some areas of the relationship will not be easy or simple.

They are altering their identity and how they see themselves

But this research suggests that ‘when people are attracted to flawed potential partners, their romantic desires may motivate them to adopt those flaws themselves’. In other words, if they don’t admire people who are spoilt, but then like someone who is a bit spoilt, they will say they are too to show compatibility.

Whether they go on to display these characteristics is not clear, however, they are altering their identity and how they see themselves. This is no small thing and can lead to problems.

This can serve as a warning in two ways:

  • Reminds us to be honest
  • Reminds us that perfection isn’t real.

Be Honest 

It should serve as a warning that we should not change our image to try and ‘win someone over’.

Obviously, when we like someone, we want to show our best side. That’s understandable. But trying to change who we are is not helpful. We need to create environments where they can see the real us and we see the real them. (Read What Should We Do On A First Date?)

Not having honesty is certainly not the best way to start a relationship

Realising that we, like many others, are tempted to change who we are to prove compatibility, isn’t helpful because it isn’t honest. Not having honesty is certainly not the best way to start a relationship, or work out if you are truly compatible when you are being your true self.

Perfection Isn’t Real

It should remind us that no one is perfect and we’re all flawed. Spotting negative traits doesn’t instantly mean the relationship won’t work out. A character flaw may not be a barrier and a reason not to talk to someone. But acting like it doesn’t matter and pretending we’re the same is unhelpful.

Imagine if…

Imagine if we reminded ourselves that dating is about getting to know someone and seeing if you want to commit to each other. It’s not about finding perfect people, or totally changing our image because impressing that person means we will be happy. (Read ‘The One’ Myth Robs Us Of A Great Relationship)

Reminding ourselves and each other of this can help us to be part of building a healthier dating culture.

Is there a difference between trying to impress someone and changing who you are? Comments welcomed below. 

Originally posted 6/3/2017

I Wouldn’t Have Survived Without My Church Family

Friendships, What The Bible Says

Often we say the church is a family. We can sometimes say it without even thinking about what it means. But it’s such a profound truth and powerful consequence of the Gospel. Jesus redefined what family and relationships were in his teachings, and church really is a loving family. Some people just wouldn’t survive without these relationships. 

Sometimes I can look at the church and notice the frustrations or things ‘I would do differently’. But the truth is, church is an amazing place that really cares and helps people like a family should. I love the church and have a lot of respect for people involved in running it.

So many people praying, asking how they were, and offering to help

I was reminded of this last month when I met up with a friend. He said his wife had been very ill and been in hospital for a while and is now recovering. He said his church family were absolutely amazing.

So many people praying, asking how they were, and offering to help cook meals and/or do other practical things to help.

He looked me in the eye and said ‘I wouldn’t have survived without my church family’.

Helping For One Reason Only 

This is what makes church so good. A place where people may not have lots in common, but they invest in the relationships at church and give up their time and money to go out of their way to help someone who needs it. For no reason other than wanting to help and love them. (Read Reflecting God’s Image Is Found In Plurality)

Another friend in my church who is a single parent and was very ill with a small child experienced the same thing. Dozens of people praying, checking up on them and offering to help practically.

The dynamic Jesus establishes goes deeper

Sometimes we can think relating in this way, loving our neighbour, is just a ‘nice’ thing to do. But the dynamic Jesus establishes goes deeper than that.

The Cross Changes Family 

In John’s Gospel, while Jesus is dying on the cross, he says this:

When the soldiers crucified Jesus, they took his clothes, dividing them into four shares, one for each of them…Near the cross of Jesus stood his mother, his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother there, and the disciple whom he loved standing nearby, he said to her, “Woman, here is your son,” and to the disciple, “Here is your mother.” From that time on, this disciple took her into his home.
John 19: 23-27 

In light of what he is doing on the cross, he is redefining family. Blood ties are no longer the basis of family, it’s our belief in him. Belief in him leads his followers to love and care for each other and look after each other’s needs.

The church is not an extra family, the church is our family because of the cross.

In a world that seems to value independence above all and shouts ‘me me me’, it’s easy to forget that Jesus profoundly changed the relationship between followers on the cross. (Read The Cross Deals With More The Forgiveness, Right?). And why it is important to love people in the church.

Churches Can Give People Great Relationships 

The church is not an extra family, the church is our family because of the cross

I fall into the trap of complaining about church sometimes. Probably more than I care to admit. But I’m constantly humbled and reminded that running a church is hard work. Nothing is perfect. But I truly believe churches want to help people, can help people, and the love which is placed within actions and relationships reminds me of this.

My friends who were in need had people rally around them and go out of their way to help. In these loving acts we can not only love and help people, but it brings us closer to God. In the serving is where our relationship with God is also strengthened (Matthew 25:31-40).

Imagine if… 

We all know church is meant to be family. We know it should be the place where we see the best side of humanity.  We all know there are problems and clashes in personality too, but imagine if we reminded ourselves that the local church family is our family. (Read Guilt Is Individual, Shame Is Relational)

This week, what is the one thing we could do, or say, or not say, in order to build the family and make it stronger?

What makes it hard for us to treat the church like family? Comments welcomed below.

Originally posted 1/3/2017