3 Steps to Function in Dysfunctional Relationships

boundariesWe have all found ourselves in the middle of difficult relationships, or at least difficult seasons in a relationship. The only way to ensure no further difficulty is to completely sever the relationship but that isn’t always possible or prudent. Working through offense, hurt and other dysfunction is more than likely going to become necessary for each of us at some point.

Maintaining the status quo where there is abuse or even ongoing offense is often not the best option as frustrations mount. There are three related reactions but distinct reactions that require wise application to walk through difficult relationships.

1. Forgiveness – releasing the need for justice. That doesn’t mean justice is out of the equation, it simply means that you won’t be the one that ensures it. God is a God of justice, but the timing and application of that truth isn’t up to us, it’s up to Him.

The biggest hurdle in getting to this point is often emotion as forgiveness is mistaken as a feeling when it is, in fact, a choice. We forgive despite the emotion, not necessarily in agreement with it. Forgiveness makes a way for healing to result in better feelings, not the other way around.

2. Boundaries – determining what you are and are not willing to be exposed to and clearly communicating those limits when they are threatened. The key here is to determine these boundaries from a healthy heart where forgiveness is sincere. If the boundaries are attempted from the fog of hurt and bitterness, they will only further the cycle of dysfunction.

Warning: healthy boundaries applied in unhealthy situations where one or more parties are abusive will not necessarily draw a healthy reaction. In fact, it can make things worse. That’s why the boundaries have to be set from a place of healthy identity to next steps can be determined without malice or fear.

3. Trust – allowing access to places that have previously been hurt. Where there has been hurt, forgiveness and boundaries, it may take time to restore trust. In fact, trust may never be restored but in those instances it’s important not to let bitterness creep back in.

Forgiveness isn’t telling the other person that what they did is ok nor is it saying that there are no consequences for choices that have been made. Trust isn’t saying it’s ok, either, but it is greater exposure to repeating the previous pattern. Premature or unwarranted trust will enable dysfunction.

God values and even requires relationship. Relationship requires self-awareness which also requires emotional maturity. When relationship is not healthy, there are things within us to be aware of, manage and grow in. If and when we do that, we won’t have to simply cut and run every time there is a relational challenge.

The Multiplication of Contentment

storm wallThe view from the dream is different from the view upon fulfillment of the dream. That is, when we want something and imagine the greatness of what it would look like if we were to get it, once we do it’s not as perfect as we had imagined. From the distant place, we imagine the new reality without flaw. That’s pretty much never the case once we get there.

An active faith allows for God’s faithfulness to be manifest in our lives. When we believe Him and agree with Him, He will come through. He isn’t a genie and we don’t always get what we want. When He says it, however, it will be true. So we pray and agree and look for the day of deliverance into those things He has indicated are promised. Then we get them and want something just a little different.

Julie and I have been on an incredible journey for the last decade or so. We’ve been transformed individually, as a couple, in our calling, circumstances and practically every other way. Yet, there’s stuff that we wish were different. There’s stuff we wish were different about ourselves individually, marriage, family, finances, circumstances, etc. That stuff is smack down in the middle of a great big testimony of the faithfulness of God in our lives.

Going from glory to glory requires the agitation of some desire. That desire for new glory, however, is not at the cost of contentment. It’s the producer of contentment. From one glory to the next, there is always something to be worked out so at each station along the way, we might as well enjoy and accept the circumstances we experience.

We can gain and we can advance, but 1 Timothy 6:6 says, ” . . .¬†godliness with contentment is great gain.” The contentment is the multiplier.

When we were called to Virginia several years ago, I really didn’t want to go. I liked where we were and preferred to stay. Somewhere along the way, the Lord worked out stuff within me that took me from agitated by the fact that we weren’t where I wanted to be to content. As soon as I was able to sincerely declare contentment and was willing to stay or go, God opened doors that have multiplied every area of our lives.

We walked through the doors to the new opportunities for multiplication that were born in the contentment and all along the way there were challenges. Today there are challenges. The choice is clear; content or discontent?

The Only Hope

treesI went to a funeral last week where we grieved and remembered and we also hoped. Most funerals are sad, some are tragic. This one was tragic as my friend’s 10-year-old boy had died suddenly in almost unthinkable fashion. This one left you questioning and grasping for “why?”

I don’t know why, but I do know this; without the perspective to even offer up the “why” there is absolutely no hope. If limited to the temporal scope of considerations, this one just sucks; nothing more, nothing less. It’s only with the faith to believe beyond the immediate that hope can be found.

The services attracted thousands offering their love, support and condolences to a family that is rooted in and lives from a faith that is mature. As I was standing in the sanctuary taking in the room, beyond the grief, I sensed a hint of hope.

I texted Julie and told her of my perception that hope was in the room. She texted back almost instantly, “It’s Jesus.”

That is so right. The reason there was a whisper piercing the crying was Jesus. He is known by the family and depended on in good times and bad. So much so, in fact, that as the family’s pastor was addressing the media on their behalf for the first time following the fatal accident, the pastor received specific instructions on how to represent the family. “Go preach Jesus,” my friend told his pastor.

In the middle of tragedy and grief, this families heart was to minister to others. Sure, they have a process they are in and will be going through. That process will include all kinds of difficult emotions and practical challenges. Instinct, however, was and is Jesus.

Hope doesn’t disappoint. Jesus is faithful. Despite the setbacks, hurts, failures and challenges, God is good and He is faithful. He doesn’t kill little boys and He doesn’t forget grieving families.

“Yeah, but what about . . .” doubters, scoffers and contrarians argue. They use facts to attempt to combat the truth and their evidence can, at times, be compelling. Compelling right up to its limitation of hope. Compelling right up to its limitation of Jesus.

It’s only with the hope of an eternal perspective that hearts turn to helping others even when they are broken hearts needing healing themselves. Little Caleb’s life was too short. His blink of an earthly lifetime, compared to eternity, is not much different from ours. Are you living in the hope of Jesus with an eternal perspective? He is the only One with more life to offer beyond the blink we all get.

The First Step is a Doozy

book-863418_640-500x313We all like to get invited to things. It’s good to be included and the invitation typically gives us an opportunity to have some fun with people we like or want to know. What about when we get invited to do hard things?

I’ve come to believe that our relationship with God is one big series of invitations. He invites us from glory to glory, always allowing us to make the choice for ourselves. His glory will not be denied, the only question is whether or not we want to be included in the unfolding glories.

Most of the American church is neither seeking nor accepting invitations. They are all too often comfortable in their salvation and waiting for heaven, trying to be good in the meantime. Heaven coming to earth, as Jesus announced, is not part of their deal.

Why would anyone turn down an invitation into glory from the same God that saved them? Because it’s hard to step into the invitations that reveal new glory, that’s why.

Since our business failed years ago, Julie and I have said “yes” to the invitations of the Lord the best that we can. We had lost everything and decided to stop trying to accomplish our Kingdom destiny via the American dream. We don’t pull it off perfectly every time, but our hearts and minds are intent on stepping into new things as God presents them.

What we have found, pretty much every time, is that the new things bring hard things first. In between the former glory and the new glory there is some level of discomfort, if not suffering. That in between is what shapes our character to increase its capacity to steward the new thing. We die to ourselves in the challenge and that space which we used to protect becomes His glory on display through us.

The whispers of God to step into the unknown are adventurous and romantic and most Christians think they want to be in the middle of His Kingdom. The reality of the discomfort, however, will prevent “yes” to preserve comfort at the cost of maturity.

You are invited and it will cost you everything, a little bit at a time. The faults of our soul have to give way to the glory of His Spirit within us and that costs us the crucifixion of everything within us that isn’t Him. It’s painful, but glorious as new Him comes out of the old us.


Chasing Waterfalls

IMG_0746We hiked up a mountain yesterday and reached a point with an incredible view of a waterfall. We sat and ate lunch with family and friends, enjoying the accomplishment of the hike as well as the surroundings and the company. The thin air made it a challenge at times, but the reward of satisfaction was worth the sacrifice of effort.

As much as we enjoyed it, our friends Jon and Mary were the main reason why and how we did it. We wouldn’t have known where to go or how to get there without their guidance. They had been there before, knew the path and were aware of the potential hazards to be aware of.

We can’t do this deal alone. Faith and freedom will not be walked out in a vacuum of isolation. Without others to show us the way and encourage us with their leadership, we will not be satisfied.

I’ve served hundreds of men and couples through “Quest” events where we go away and seek the heart of God for 6 days at a time. Those encounters are powerful and real. Men and women who may have lost hope, feigned faith or don’t realize any love within them encounter God as the source and they are filled up with those things and more. One whisper, hint, whiff or shadow of God’s presences changes us.

But what about the ones that go home and struggle? Does that invalidate the encounter they had? If they return and don’t walk it out, it neither invalidates God or the experience they had with Him. It doesn’t change one thing they knew about their identity in Him, even if their knowledge seemed to be only for a moment.

The reason they struggle, almost every time, is they try to live it out alone. Either because of busyness or some other distraction, they fail to live in the transparency that facilitated the encounter. Slowly but surely, they find themselves in the ditch of isolation alongside the road to freedom.

Encounters and retreats can be great catalysts but the continuity of community is what facilitates the destiny of faith. That continuity is found in the local church. More than Sunday services or programs, the church is a place for imperfect people to connect and sharpen one another. It requires authenticity and transparency but the reward is the view that comes from a higher place of greater glory.

With Isn’t For

imagesThe bad news is we can’t do it; the good news is we don’t have to. We really don’t have anything we have to prove or accomplish that advances us in favor or blessings. We don’t have any burden to do stuff that protects God’s reputation or advances His cause of our own initiative. We do get to, however, join Him in the stuff that He will do.

“We then, as workers together with Him also plead with you not to receive the grace of God in vain.” 2 Corinthians 6:1.

Paul writes about the opportunity of walking as an ambassador of Christ, offering the message of reconciliation to a world that needs to be reconciled to Him. The only thing that qualifies anyone as an ambassador of Christ and minister of reconciliation is that they have been reconciled to Christ. The qualifier is Him. The Savior is Him. We just receive.

In the same way that we once were lost and dead in our separation from Him, others still are and we are commissioned to bring them the good news of His salvation. In the bringing of that good news, however, He doesn’t become any less the Savior than He was when we were saved. It’s Him that saves and we get to be there when He does. We get to participate with Him. We don’t do it for Him because we don’t have capacity to save.

Remember what Paul wrote in the passage quoted, “together with Him.” How many times have we said or heard others say they were doing something or wanted to do something “for Him.” Big difference between the “with” and the “for.”

Agreement with Christ as King in the advancement of His Kingdom is acceptance of an invitation into life and living. We are just as impacted in engaging the lost and broken as the lost and broken are in our engagement. We are encouraged and alive in the purpose that comes with accepting the invitations into the eternal even as we are otherwise bound by the temporal.

Doing stuff for Him is burdensome and lifeless. It’s fulfillment of an obligation that never existed towards a purpose we can’t accomplish. It’s hoping distant father notices the striving child and grants approval based on performance. It’s orphan stuff.

As children of God the Father through Christ the Son, we are already in Him. We can’t get anymore in and we don’t need to do anything else. We are invited to experience Him in an infinite variety of ways through our finite earthly existence. We are sons and daughters in Him and we don’t need to prove it or earn it.