Category Archives: Character

Monday Morning Moment – Contempt – the Cold Killer of Hearts and Humanity

Photo Credit: Armstrong Economics

Ah…contempt. It is defined as a strong negative emotion that joins disgust and disrespect. We have all experienced contempt, either for someone else, or a group of someones…or the contempt of another towards us.

Contempt is a harsh response…a cold killer of hearts and relationships.

It became more real than ever when I experienced it myself recently. Not toward me personally maybe but because of an association/affiliation I have that is viewed by some as contemptible. When we express contempt, it is usually in conversation with those who agree with us. Rarely do we have the person(s) toward which we feel contempt in front of us. We don’t engage them as much as we complain about them. We hold some in contempt because of their beliefs or actions, and our temptation is to have nothing to do with them. We may view this as a strength, but (as I’ve heard said), “an unguarded strength is a double weakness.”

“Knowing our weakness, dividing leaders on both the left and right seek power and fame by setting American against American, brother against brother, compatriot against compatriot. These leaders assert that we must choose sides, then argue that the other side is wicked—not worthy of any consideration—rather than challenging them to listen to others with kindness and respect. They foster a culture of contempt.” Arthur C. Brooks, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save Our Country From the Culture of Contempt

Contempt is something I’d like to annihilate in my own thinking, and thankfully there are helps. Below you will find two thought leaders who have worked to expose contempt for what it truly is and does to us, and who have given us counsel on how to recognize it and rid ourselves of it. Author and academician Arthur Brooks and clinical psychologist John Gottman.

How do we confront contempt?

Arthur Brooks’ 5 Rules to Counter Contempt

1. Refuse to be used by the powerful.“The accurate image of a powerful manipulator is someone on your side of the debate: a media figure who always affirms your views, a politician who always says what you think, or a professor who never challenges your biases. They declare the other side is terrible, irredeemable, unintelligent or anything else that expresses contempt — and they say you should think these things as well.” Brooks encourages us to tune out that person “on our side” who seeks to manipulate us, whatever the reason. Then (this is the harder part), we are to call out contemptuous behavior among those with whom we agree (our friends and maybe family). Contempt tears us down, and we don’t want that for ourselves or those we love.

2. Escape your bubble.“The culture of contempt is sustained by polarization and separation. It is easy to express contempt for those with whom we disagree when we view them as “them” or never see them at all. Contempt is much harder to express when we see one another as fellow human beings, as “us.”” We do well to make opportunities to share space and conversation with people not like us. Seek to understand and look for ways we are alike.

3. Treat others with love and respect, even when it’s difficult.“Never treat others with contempt, even if you believe they deserve it. First, your contempt makes persuasion impossible, because no one has ever been insulted into agreement. Second, you may be wrong to assume that certain people are beyond reason. There are many examples of people forming unlikely bonds precisely because they didn’t treat each other with contempt.” Sometimes we are the ones toward which contempt is aimed. If we have offended, then we can apologize. Raising an issue higher than the value of the person doesn’t take us anywhere positive.

4. Be part of a healthy competition of ideas.“I believe disagreement is good because competition is good. As in politics and economics, competition — bounded by rule of law and morality — brings excellence. In the world of ideas, competition is called “disagreement.” Disagreement helps us innovate, improve, correct and find the truth. Of course, disagreement — like free markets and free elections — requires proper behavior to function.” The goal is not to disagree less but to disagree better, notes Brooks.

5. Disconnect from unproductive debates.“Get rid of curated social media feeds. Unfollow public figures who foment contempt. Want to get really radical? Stop talking and thinking about politics for a little while. Do a politics cleanse. For two weeks — maybe during your next vacation — resolve not to read, watch or listen to anything about politics. Don’t discuss politics with anyone. This will be hard to do but not impossible.” This exercise will reveal how much of your life and mental energy is wasted, allowing you to refocus on people you truly love and work/play that matter more than those things you probably won’t be able to change. – Arthur Brooks, Sick of the Culture of Contempt? Here are 5 Ways You Can Subvert It

One last quote from Albert Brooks: “We should be careful to note that love and agreement are not the same thing. There are ideas and actions that are worthy of our contempt. But while some ideas and actions are worthy of contempt, we should always remember that no person is.”Defusing a Culture of Contempt: Arthur Brooks on How to ‘Disagree Better’ – Joan Frawley Desmond

Another exceptional thinker and clinician is Dr. John Gottman, psychologist and professor. His focus is primarily on marriages and individual mental health within relationships. The Four Horsemen is a metaphor pointing toward end-times. Dr. Gottman uses the same metaphor in describing four elements of communication, any one of which can predict the demise of a marriage (or any other relationship). These elements are criticism, contempt, defensiveness, and stonewalling. Each has an antidote.

Photo Credit: John Gottman, Gottman Institute, Instagram

The Four Horsemen: Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling – Ellie Lisitsa

Contempt is much more mean-spirited than criticism. It communicates a measure of cold superiority over the one being criticized. Gottman isn’t talking about a political stand or a point of contention over culture or morality. He is concentrating on the relationship between two people, usually being a married couple.

“Contempt, simply put, says, “I’m better than you. And you are lesser than me.” [It] is fueled by long-simmering negative thoughts about one’s partner, and it arises in the form of an attack on someone’s sense of self. Inevitably, contempt leads to more conflict—particularly dangerous and destructive forms of conflict—rather than to reconciliation. It’s virtually impossible to resolve a problem when your partner is getting the message that you’re disgusted with them and that you’re condescending and acting as their superior.”

Gottman prescribes two antidotes for contempt in the marriage relationship – one short-term and the other more long-term:

  • First, the person feeling contempt toward the other would do well to name the emotions that rise to the top during a conflict. Express these emotions to your spouse without blaming, and appeal for help with a solution. “I am sad that we don’t have friends over. Could we talk about a way forward on this?” Or “I get worried when the bills pile up. Can we talk about what we can do to stay within budget?”
  • Second, Gottman suggests establishing (or re-building) a home culture of fondness and admiration for each other. This is a discipline that may take some strong determination, but it is doable. In fact, I have go-to Bible verses (Revelation 2:4-5) that help me immensely during those dry times in my own marriage. It speaks about what to do when we have lost our first love (for God and each other). Essentially, the instruction is to remember how it was in the beginning, repent/return, and repeat the actions/emotions/intentions that came naturally when the relationship was new. We don’t have to feel the fondness or admiration at first, but as we practice them, they can be restored. Among many tools, Dr. Gottman uses the instrument below to kick-start the process as the spouse chooses three descriptors and then gives examples of those to the other person.
Photo Credit: John Gottman, The Gottman Institute

Contempt is deceptive. It feels so good to think we are right, and yet in the practice of contempt, we become more isolated and less engaged in real community. Only preferring people who think like we do. At some point, our competencies will be impacted because our problem-solving shrinks down to just judging others and determining they aren’t worth our time. We miss learning from them, and we miss the possibility of genuinely understanding them, even loving them.

Having faced contempt myself in the last week, It has brought me to a “come to Jesus” moment. I don’t want to hold contempt for anyone, no matter how different they are, no matter what wrongs they have done. I want to figure out how to stay engaged with people…such that “if [I] can’t move mountains, [maybe I can] move a stone”.*

Photo Credit: Instagram, Ullie Kaye Poetry*

Sunday Reflection – Father’s Day & Fathering

https://debmillswriter.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/11/2007-Feb-Dave-Boys.jpg

[Adapted from the Archives]

We all have fathers – whether very present, present but distant, or long-time absent. Some of you may be fathers. Some of you may have wanted to be fathers but are not able to be…for whatever reasons.

This day of commemoration usually means a good meal and some sort of gifting or pampering for you dads. For all of you, with or without children, you can be influencers…and we need you. My biological father was absent long before my parents divorced.

Thankfully I have had a rich heritage of good fathers through the rest of my life – my step-dad, brothers, uncles, husband, father-in-law, son/son-in-law, brother-in-law, nephews, and loving, empowering male friends and colleagues. Most of these good fathers in my life were spiritual fathers…but fathers nonetheless.

The father of my own children used to travel with his work. He and I had a parting ritual. He runs through the “in case something happens” list [let me know if you want particulars of that – it is helpful to know]. Then, we did sort of a “Thanks for marrying me” farewell…and finally that wonderful, “If I don’t see you here, I’ll see you THERE.” When this man wasn’t present with us, he still was.

Fathering, like mothering, is not an easy job. So much dying to self. So much responsibility. What a delight for us when the men in our lives take fathering on their shoulders as they might a sleeping child. Surrendering themselves to the serving of those younger than them. I thank God for men who humble themselves in prayer for their children and who go to work every day to support their families. Working, studying, and life-long learning passed on to their children and others.

Photo Credit: Calvin & Hobbs from the blog of Kenneth Reeds

These dads are too-often taken for granted in the shadow of fathering that falls short. The absent, neglectful and downright abusive fathers cut wounds so deep that decent fathers are sometimes judged by the same measure. We watch for “the sins of the fathers to be revisited on their children” (Numbers 14:18).

Today, let’s reflect on the good fathers. Those who were present at our births, or those who came later in life to us, or those who father us out of their own great hearts. Imperfect, sure. All of us are. Yet, there are those men who go many more than second miles for us, and we are grateful. – Deb Mills

…and finally let’s live in hope that those fathers who struggle to be present or loving may one day gather themselves together, awaken to what was left behind, and reach out to the treasures they missed along the way…and may they find us within reach.

The Father I Never Knew on Father’s Day – Deb Mills Writer

Fathering – Celebrating Men Who Did It Well; Forgiving Men Who Didn’t – Deb Mills Writer

“As to my children, you are now to be left fatherless, which I hope will be an inducement to you all to seek a Father who will never fail you.”Jonathan Edwards, his last words to his children, as he lay dying

Traveling Man – Somewhere Between Here, There, & Home – Deb Mills Writer

Blog - Father's Day - B. C. comic

Photo Credit: B. C. Comics

Monday Morning Moment – Henri Nouwen on Leadership

Photo Credit: Henri J. M. Nouwen, In Jesus’ Name, QuoteFancy

What can we learn about leadership from a priest? A priest who spent his potentially most influential years as pastor of L’Arche – a community for mentally handicapped persons? What? Plenty!

Henri J. M. Nouwen was a renowned scholar, writer, professor, and a Dutch Catholic priest. He taught for many years at such prestigious universities as Notre Dame, Yale, and Harvard. His writings were prolific and his personality was winsome.

Whether you are Christian or not, you will profit from the tiny book (81 pages) he wrote on leadership – “In the Name of Jesus: Reflections on Christian Leadership”. I read this book yesterday afternoon and was spellbound by his wisdom. Having read many texts on leadership over the years, both secular and Christian, I was captivated by Nouwen’s take on leadership…and his willingness to confront the pitfalls that can occur along the way. In a clear and succinct way, he exposed the temptations we have in leading others and the way we can extinguish them through applying certain disciplines or habits.

Nouwen points out three temptations leaders are apt to succumb to, and then he offers three disciplines to counter (and gain freedom from) them. Christian readers, you will appreciate his direction. He refers to Scripture for his teaching – two passages in particular: 1) Jesus’ questioning a repentant Peter after he had denied the Lord three times (John 21:15-19), and 2) the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13). I will list the temptations below and examples from my own life where they crept in:

  1. To Be Relevant – In recent years this has actually been a longing of mine, before the Lord. After retiring from a full and satisfying ministry life, with all our children grown and on their own, my days got very quiet. I didn’t know what to do with them. The calls to join this team or lead that work just didn’t come in. Somehow I had made relevance an idol. Thankfully God was working away at that temptation in my life. He is still at work, because I still struggle…but not like before. Earlier today, I was sitting in the waiting room while an Afghan grandmother in my care was having dental work done. It’s been my least favorite activity on the refugee resettlement team of our church. The appointments are three hours long (for the dental students’ learning), and even with books, phone, and hallways to do steps, I bristled at times at the servitude of this activity. After reading Nouwen’s book, he pointed the way to resist. Contemplative prayer is the answer. Recognizing that I don’t need to be going here or there because it is I who am needed in those situations. To use the time of seeming irrelevance to participate in a grander work than I could have ever imagined. To simply be, humbled and grateful, with God, and to have a quiet many would love to know. To remember that the work, whatever it is, came from Him to begin with. I don’t own work, or ministry, or service of any kind. It is an opportunity to show up for a greater good, in a quieter state, where I am surrendered, making myself available, to love others more than myself – “in the name of Jesus”.

“I’m telling you all this because I am deeply convinced that the Christian leader of the future is called to be completely irrelevant and to stand in this world with nothing to offer but his or her own vulnerable self. That is the way Jesus came to reveal God’s love…God loves us not because of what we do or accomplish, but because God has created and redeemed us in love and has chosen us to proclaim that love as the true source of all human life.”Henri Nouwen

2. To Be Popular (Spectacular even)What a temptation this is. It is stealthy. We sometimes aren’t even aware that we experience it. Until we are. Sigh… Leadership lends itself to singular popularity (even in situations where people love to hate you…it’s still a superlative position of a sort). When we rise through the ranks, through experience mixed with education, it can be a very individualistic journey. “Lonely at the top”. However, there is a head trip attached where we become prone to thinking that we are the ones to call, or to consult, or to give opinion, or have the last decision. This temptation to want to be “the one” is fortunately tempered by doing work/life/church in community. By taking someone along. By sharing decision-making. By including those most affected in the conversation. Making room around the table. Nouwen, in regards to this temptation, calls the reader to Confession and Forgiveness. When is the last time you heard a leader confess a weakness or struggle? When did she or he ask forgiveness for a decision that turned out poorly or for a moral failure exposed? Being willing to remove the cape of the hero, and step off the pedestal, takes a humility that allows for, mutual confession and forgiveness within the larger community.

3. To Be Powerful – What a temptation!! To believe that we could actually have power over other people’s lives. To be in a position of making sweeping decisions with little restraint. To be surrounded by those who (dealing with their own temptations) would go along with the decisions out of their own need for popularity and power. It’s messed-up. In fact, what we think is our leading is really being led (by our own preferences, or the pressures of that vaunted position). What’s the solution? Now, each of these temptations so far has had a spiritual response – prayer, confession and forgiveness. What is the way forward when power has taken the driver’s seat? Theological Reflection. Nouwen is NOT talking about the answers that may be debated in the seminary classroom. It goes far deeper…to actually look for the truth in the background…and seeking to act on what is true…not for the sake of relevance or popularity or to hold onto power.

“Christian leaders have the arduous task of responding to personal struggles, family conflicts, national calamities, and international tensions with an articulate faith in God’s real presence. They have to say ‘no’ to every form of fatalism, defeatism, accidentalism or incidentalism which make people believe that statistics are telling us the truth. They have to say ‘no’ to every form of despair in which human life is seen as a pure matter of good or bad luck. They have to say ‘no’ to sentimental attempts to make people develop a spirit of resignation or stoic indifference in the face of the unavoidability of pain, suffering, and death…Theological reflection is reflecting on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus and thereby raising human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.” Henri Nouwen

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Henri Nouwen left the lofty academic environment to join in community with those who would not incline to be impressed with his credentials. Yet, in the setting of L’Arche, Nouwen dug deep into how to lead in gentler and more loving ways, with the example of the life of Jesus, and the nearness of God and community.

The beauty of his life laid down has given me pause to look differently at leadership and the possibility of being led…by a God who loves us first, in servant mode, in community with others…in the name of Jesus.

YouTube Video – Remembering Henri Nouwen (1932-1996)

In the Name of Jesus – Summary – Chuck Olson

Monday Morning Moment – Withholding – When It Goes Way Past Boundaries Into Downright Meanness

Photo Credit: Marshall B. Rosenberg, Quote Fancy

This has been days in the writing. When I saw the quote below just scrolling through Instagram, it stopped me in my tracks. Withholding (as defined here) goes way past “not knowing what to say” or “placing boundaries” or any measure of shyness or introversion. Withholding is actually an act of aggression…a display of power. One in which any of us can find ourselves if we don’t practicing checking our hearts or intentions regarding certain people or situations.

Photo Credit: Covenantal Relationships, Instagram

My Mom was the most significant influence in my life growing up. Now, I didn’t have the vocabulary for a lot of what she taught me, in word and deed, until recent years. Much of what she modeled came through her love of Scripture. She wasn’t a practicing Christian in my early childhood, but still she had made some decisions as a young person (while churched or otherwise influenced) that she practiced throughout her life. She became more mature and even more compassionate in these rules of life as she patterned her life more and more like Jesus.

I said all this to say that she was the opposite of a withholding sort of person. Even as an introvert.

Maybe growing up in a home with an alcoholic father and a timid mother influenced her willingness to show up for people – her brothers, her friends, her children, and strangers she met day-to-day. She did not withhold herself from others – all sorts of others – and it made for a beautiful life. This from a woman who worked full-time, raised four kids, and dealt with a cancer that would take her life too soon. Well, it didn’t take her life. Her life was finished at 75 to the glory of God. Even in her last hours and experiencing pain and increasing weakness, she was encouraging all of us around her. She even woke up from a coma that had silenced her to say “I love you” in response to one of her little grandchildren’s goodbyes to her.

This woman. Now you can understand why this issue of withholding feels so wrong to me. I understand people needing boundaries in toxic relationships, however, the practice of withholding can take boundaries up several notches. This probably isn’t a winsome topic because we don’t think what we’re doing is mean-spirited…it’s just because we are busy, or shy, or can’t do one more thing, or (fill in the reason).

Withholding can have different faces depending on what our intent or inclination is. It can be withholding of:

  • Time, attention, helps, favor.
  • Information, encouragement, welcome.
  • Food, possessions, recreation, experiences.
  • People (children, friends, family members).
  • Finances, job opportunities, training/equipping, inclusion.

We have all experienced withholding – either as the one holding out on others or the one experiencing that neglect (whether intended personally or just in the wake of not being chosen for any of the above).

What do we do with this issue? If you’re reading this, you are already on the path to solutions. Those who don’t read this sort of piece don’t see this as a problem. Certainly, none of us are necessarily entitled to whatever is sensed as being withheld. However, if we don’t want to be on the giving end of withholding, we can note it and practice the opposite – a humility, intentionality, watchfulness, and graciousness can move us toward an openness and willingness to be there, even when others are not.

Parenting is a long season where withholding can become a habit – when we as parents get exasperated with our children’s choices and when we are shaken in our sense of who we are and how we’re doing. An example is well-communicated below by Youth Dynamics of Montana. If we have struggled with parenting or have been harmed by our own parents’ withholding, our temptation is to extend that same experience back, over time, either with our kids or our parents.

Do we really want that to become our practice?

Photo Credit: Youth Dynamics of Montana, Instagram

For me, it’s a daily battle to be like my Mom, but one I want to come out winning, or at least fighting. To be that person who works to catch the eye of people, to engage and encourage, to be courteous and deferent, to include, to give where there is opportunity, to serve when I know I can, to share information that would help, to let people in and to show up for others. All of this models good for our children and is a blessing to those around us. Choosing not to withhold myself, my people, and my resources by tightly circling the wagons.

There’s a great call to action by the Prophet Isaiah on what can happen (if I could interject) when we don’t withhold. When we show up, God shows up in exponentially greater ways. Is that your experience?

Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees.
Say to those who have an anxious heart, “Be strong; fear not! Behold, your God
    will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God. He will come and save you.”

Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then shall the lame man leap like a deer, and the tongue of the mute sing for joy.
For waters break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert…
Isaiah 35:3-6

5 Withholding Tactics Malignant Narcissists and Psychopaths Use To Torment You – Shahida Arabi, MA

What Emotional Withholding Looks Like And How To Handle It In Relationships – Row Light

Why Punishing a Child by Withholding Affection is Wrong – W. R. Cummings

Withholding: A Dangerous Saboteur of Love – That Immobilization Some Feel Under Stress Can Become Withholding Behavior. – Randi Gunther Ph.D.

To Say the Least: Where Deceptively Withholding Information Ends and Lying Begins – Marta Dynel – a highly scholarly (but very readable!), totally fascinating article on this topic

Monday Morning Moment – A Place for You – Deb Mills

Inner Circles – the Mad Pursuit of Position, Power, Prominence, and Plenty – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Considering Others – the Wawa Experience – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – The 6 Sacrifices of Leadership – in Memory of Clyde Meador

Photo Credit: GOBNM

10 years writing this blog. I started 10 years ago this very month. The reason, in particular, was because I felt my memory clouding some, and there were memories and counsel I wanted to make sure were left for my children. As writing does, the blog cut its course through many topics – God, life, marriage, parenting, beauty, friendship, work, meaning, purpose, and reflections of all sorts. Now 10 years out, my memory is still hanging in there, and for that I’m thankful. Also for the having of words to share with those I love.

Our friend Clyde Meador started a blog himself 3 years ago this month. He may have had similar hopes – to leave something for his children and for the sake of a greater work.

Leadership was a topic that I studied for years (posting in my Monday Morning Moment). I learned so much from great leaders in my life, as well as some leaders who could have used some mentoring by our friend Clyde. That may not have been kind, but good leaders matter – in our lives and in the futures of organizations.

Photo Credit: Facebook, Stephen White, 2017 [Clyde and his beloved wife, Elaine]

In the first year of Clyde’s blog, he wrote a series of posts entitled 6 Sacrifices of Leadership. The topics were:

  • Loss of Constant Firsthand Involvement
  • Too Much Negative Knowledge
  • Constant Criticism
  • Leaving
  • Sacrifice, Isolation, Ostracism
  • Impact on Family Ties Due to Travel and Workload

Take the time to study those posts to learn from Clyde. In a recent tribute to him, a friend and colleague, Charles Clark wrote a brief summary of Clyde’s six sacrifices, their dangers and rewards. You find them in the image below:

Photo Credit: Clyde Meador from Charles Clark’s Facebook page, May 2024

In April 2024, Clyde Meador, this wise, humble, and insightful leader friend of ours, died, at 70 years of age. Complications of a long battle with cancer. He leaves a big hole, for his family, but also for the many people who have known him and loved him through the years. However, he would say something along the lines of God doesn’t leave holes.

We all have stories with Clyde in them – his lessons on life and leading. His legacy is that he never wavered in his faith walk, his love for his family, or his determination to do excellence in the work God had given him. He and Elaine have been a picture of constancy in our lives. Leading and loving.

In July of 2023, life and cancer treatment got in the way of Clyde continuing his blog. What turned out to be his last blog is so appropriate and beautiful. “To Those Who Come After Us”. Here are the last paragraphs.

“I will sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever; with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.”  (Psalm 89:1, ESV)  “We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and His might, and the wonders that He has done.”  (Psalm 78:4, ESV)  This commitment of faithful followers of the Lord must be our commitment, also.

“So even to old age and gray hairs, O God, do not forsake me, until I proclaim your might to another generation, your power to all those to come.”  (Psalm 71:18, ESV)  I am grateful that I have reached old age and gray hair, and pray that I will faithfully do all I can to communicate the truth of the Gospel to those who come after me.

Of all those things which we teach our children and those who come after them, nothing is more important, more urgent than the truth of the Gospel.  I have a less-than-perfect record of success in this endeavor, yet I seek to faithfully persist in sharing the Truth.  I challenge each of us to a major focus on sharing all we know about our Lord and Savior with the next generations! – Clyde Meador, To Those Who Come After Us

[Dave & Clyde, a few weeks before Clyde went to be with the Lord. So grateful. What a humble and wise mentor he was to so many.]

Worship Wednesday – Our Posture Before a Waiting & Loving Father – with Trevin Wax

Photo Credit: Prodigal Son by Eugene Burnand, article by James Ross Kelly

And Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons; and the younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of property that falls to me.’ And he divided his living between them. Not many days later, the younger son gathered all he had and took his journey into a far country, and there he squandered his property in loose living. And when he had spent everything, a great famine arose in that country, and he began to be in want. So he went and joined himself to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed swine. And he would gladly have fed on the pods that the swine ate; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired servants have bread enough and to spare, but I perish here with hunger! I will arise and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of your hired servants.”’ And he arose and came to his father. But while he was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ But the father said to his servants, ‘Bring quickly the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet; and bring the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and make merry; for this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found.’ And they began to make merry.

“Now his elder son was in the field; and as he came and drew near to the house, he heard music and dancing. And he called one of the servants and asked what this meant. And he said to him, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has received him safe and sound.’ But he was angry and refused to go in. His father came out and entreated him, but he answered his father, ‘Lo, these many years I have served you, and I never disobeyed your command; yet you never gave me a kid, that I might make merry with my friends. But when this son of yours came, who has devoured your living with harlots, you killed for him the fatted calf!’ And he said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. It was fitting to make merry and be glad, for this your brother was dead, and is alive; he was lost, and is found.’Luke 15:11-32

The following is a treasure by writer and researcher Trevin Wax, used with permission. We met only once, but I’ve been learning from him for several years. You are in for a treat – a life-giving infusion of truth, wisdom, and grace.

“Every now and then, a song brings me to tears.

Sometimes it’s an older song that stirs the heart in a new way. I’ve never been able to sing the last verse of Isaac Watts’s hymn, “There Is a Fountain,” because I’m too moved by that image of my “poor lisping, stammering tongue” lying “silent in the grave” before rising again to sing a “nobler, sweeter song” of Christ and his “power to save.”

Songs about the cross and resurrection strike that chord, such as the vision at the end of “O Praise the Name (Anástasis)” of resurrection hope when our gaze will be fixated on the Savior. Andrew Peterson’s “Well Done, Good and Faithful” builds on a Watts hymn and imagines the Father affirming the Son’s sacrificial work; I blubber every Easter season when I hear it. Other songs do the trick too, even simple ones like Steven Curtis Chapman’s “My Redeemer is Faithful and True” or Fernando Ortega’s “Give Me Jesus.”

But for all the times when glorious gospel truth has me fumbling for a Kleenex, there many times when I sing about amazing grace with dry eyes and a lukewarm heart. This has me wondering, What dries up the heart and keeps us from feeling and experiencing the marvelous, matchless grace of God? What keeps the tear ducts blocked?

For starters, there’s the posture of the older brother in the parable of the prodigal son: the self-righteous, self-sufficient one who remains “close” to the father, at least in terms of proximity, while his heart is far from home. The consummate rule-follower believes deep down that the only possible reason God would love us is because we’ve done something to deserve salvation.

Photo Credit: Rembrandt’s Return of the Prodigal, Stanton Lanier

This assumption can manifest itself in many ways, even among those who talk about grace all the time. The self-justifying tendencies of the human heart can lead us to stand on a pedestal of Christian teaching about grace and then look down on others who’ve not arrived at our level of doctrinal understanding or theological precision.

But we cannot weep before the majestic grace of God if we’re still searching for scraps of self-sufficiency. Tears of gratitude will never fall from eyes looking down on others, only from eyes looking up to God’s grace.

But there’s a second posture that keeps us from marveling at the grace of God: the desire to validate ourselves by doing away with sin.

The New Testament’s insistence on our need for redemption humbles us. But redefining sin removes the need for humility, leaving us affirmed in our natural state.

For many today, the problem isn’t the disease of sin, but those who’d diagnose the disease. So, instead of a father running to us with a heart overflowing with forgiveness and healing mercy, we want a father who runs to affirm us and tell us all is well, that what we’ve done either wasn’t that bad or wasn’t bad at all. We want a God to provide a spiritual presence, a transcendent dimension for the life we’ve chosen to live. God becomes the approver of our own self-validation.

This second posture is also rooted in self-righteousness, but it masks itself in false mercy. For some, sin is not that big a deal because God is merciful and it’s his job to forgive. For others, our focus on brokenness and suffering outstrips any notion of sin as transgression or treason against God. God’s mercy and help are there to make us whole, but this “wholeness” must ultimately be defined by every individual.

The first and greatest commandment is “Be true to yourself.” The second is like it: “Affirm whatever self your neighbor decides to be true to.” In this way, we rid ourselves of vice, not through forgiveness, but through redefining vices as virtues, as part of our authentic selves.

And so, the father runs to the repentant son, not to shower him with undeserved grace, but to follow him to the pigsty, where he insists the son’s rebellion was a bold and courageous act of independence, and the diet of pig food is really a feast for the self-actualized.

This posture strips us of the power to weep at grace. Sin is waved, not washed, away. To deny or minimize your sinfulness is to sever the root of gratitude for undeserved favor. Make favor deserved, a reward that showcases your innate worth and value and goodness, and you’ve gutted grace of everything that makes it amazing.

In both cases, whether it’s the elder brother who won’t lower himself to join the feast, or the younger brother who won’t come to his senses because he wants to be “free” to choose the pigsty, self-righteousness blocks tears of gratitude.

Only Jesus gives us grace that meets us in our darkest hour, grace that plumbs the depths of our cavernous hearts, grace that transforms the heart of stone into a heart of flesh.

Undeserved favor strips us of self-righteousness and shows up our paltry attempts at self-validation. Submit to that humble stripping away of all our pride, and then we can bask in the grace that makes us sing louder, shout for joy, and weep with gratitude. That’s the grace we see in the running feet of the father.” – Trevin Wax, Facebook, May 5, 2024

[If you have time, and want to sing praise to God for His great grace, click on any of the song links – old or new.]

Rembrandt’s Prodigal – A Life Lesson – Stanton Lanier

The Story of the Loving Father – William Barclay – James Ross Kelly

Monday Morning Moment – “What If You’re Wrong”

Photo Credit: Unsplash

What just happened? When you read the title “What If You’re Wrong”, was there a reaction in mind or body? If I had written “What If I’m Wrong”, it would have been far less provocative, right? Clearly, it’s possible for me to be wrong on many things. Not just possible but actual. I am most probably wrong on a number of things, either out of ignorance, preference, a lack of understanding, or neglect of the truth.

Is there a way we can talk about the stuff that matters to us with people who care about very different sorts of things? People who strongly disagree. People who are sure they are right, when we are also sure that we are…and they are wrong.

Below you’ll find an old video of a Richard Dawkins lecture at a Virginia university. He took questions from the floor, and one very brave, if not naive, student asked him “What if you’re wrong?” His answer, or non-answer but more repartee, was clearly one he had fashioned for just that question. Have a listen.

The lecture must have had to do with the existence of God, and Dr. Dawkins, though once a “Christian” is now an atheist. His response to the student was condescending, dismissive, and unkind. Oddly, his reasoning fell along the same lines as a 16y/o Muslim student in my World Religions class in Morocco. My student surmised that people followed the religion of their parents. Yet, here, Dr. Dawkins disproved what he said himself by leaving the Christian faith for atheism. In the video, maybe he considered disrespectful the student asking the question, therefore, he responded with mirrored disrespect. Who knows?

This is what I’m wanting to know. Can people engage each other with curiosity, care, and consideration (hope you don’t mind alliteration)…when they are at opposite ends of a worldview or belief system?

The key is those 3 c-words above. If I truly want to understand the position of another person, hopefully that can be communicated in such a way that engenders an openness. If that person knows I truly care about him/her, maybe they would be willing to trust me with such a conversation. If they knew my desire is to take into consideration how they came to their conclusions, maybe they would risk digging down into their reasoning. No judgment. On either side.

That would be amazing.

Writer, creator Adam Dachis posted a helpful piece for Lifehacker.

How to Know When You’re Wrong (and What You Can Do About It) – Adam Dachis

  1. Common Denominator – Find It. What might the continuing point of contention between you? Find that “button” that always gets pushed and choose together to find a way for it not to be the confounding issue.
  2. Considering What’s Right – Convictions & Outcomes When you analyze your positions (convictions), it is possible to consider which would lead to a better outcome. This is a growth point toward understanding if not change.
  3. Changing Someone Else’s Behavior – Shouldn’t Be the Goal. – Trying to change the other person’s opinion or worldview can’t be the goal. They are in control there, but you can change something about your own behavior toward them or the situation. This approach is not about people-pleasing but about defusing and deescalating. The goal has to be relationship, or why bother?
  4. Consult the Facts. We tend to focus on and be influenced by information that aligns with how we think, not even considering that the information might be wrong. If one of us considers the other wrong, the temptation is to attack (if I am the one feeling right or feeling wrong, the default is to become defensive and tempted to attack). Listen to the other side. Be tuned into what you are feeling as well. Stay in the conversation. Treat yourself and the other person with compassion. The goal is understanding.

Gustavo Razzetti, a work culture design consultant, writes about the difference between the soldier mindset and the scout mindset in dealing with conflicting worldviews:

“The soldier mindset is rooted in the need to defend ourselves. The pressure to be right elevates our adrenaline—we experience a fight-or-flight response.

A more curious mindset is that of the scout—this role is about understanding, not defending our beliefs. The scout goes out, maps the terrain, and identifies the real challenge—he wants to know what’s really there.

The mindset you choose affects your judgment, analysis, and decision-making.

The soldier mindset is rooted in emotions like aggression and tribalism. The scout mindset is rooted in curiosity—it’s about the pleasure of learning new things, being intrigued when new facts contradict our beliefs, and not feeling weak about changing our mind.

Above all, scouts are grounded—their self-worth isn’t tied to how right or wrong they are.” – Gustavo Razzetti, “What If You’re the One Who’s Wrong”

I lived for many years in countries where the majority religion was not my own. Local friends would at some point or other ask me the “right or wrong” sort of question… “Why wouldn’t I consider their religion?” I treated that question with the care I had for those friends. In fact, I have a document on my computer where I considered all their tenets of faith and what kept me from becoming a follower of their religion. What was right for them was wrong for me.

However, the most beautiful experience of those “What if you’re wrong” scenarios was what happened with my dearest local friends. Without knowing the concept at the time, we determined to make each other feel “seen, soothed, safe, and secure”. Although my own faith (especially my belief in Jesus as Savior and Lord) would not be altered, these friends mattered deeply to me. We reconciled our differences in faith through the depth of our friendship. If one had to be considered right and the other wrong, we would still love each other. Period. Full-stop.

One Small Step – StoryCorps

Winsomeness, Wisdom, and the Way of Jesus: A Few Reflections on Christ and Culture From John 6 – David S. Schrock

Photo Credit: Reddit

Monday Morning Moment – Considering Others – the Wawa Experience

Small acts of kindness aren’t really so small. They add up and can alter your day. Take stopping into Wawa – “the ultimate convenience store for food, drink, fuel, and more”. [If you don’t have Wawa in your town, it’s wherever you stop for gas and coffee.] Now, Wawa seems to be a working person’s stop-on-the-go place. Fueling the car and grabbing a quick beverage (plus food maybe). Customers are on the move. They have places to go.

What happens there, in seconds, is noteworthy. When folks go to and from the store, they almost without exception, hold the door for the next customer. Literally, I sometimes just stand and watch, while filling my gas tank. [It would have been creepy for me to video this activity although I was tempted. It’s a constant where the one opening the door waits for the oncoming person exiting or entering.

So considerate. So courteous. Now, I’m sure there are folks who run in to grab coffee and are lost in their thoughts. They enter and exit without thinking. Not noticing the person in front or behind them. This happens…just doesn’t seem to happen here.

I love that about Wawa. Working people who have jobs to do but take the seconds to hold the door. A small act of kindness. Do we do that intuitively? Or did we learn it from someone – at home, in the classroom? It’s definitely a work culture phenomenon as well. Check out the #1 element of work culture that matters in the SloanReview article:

10 Things Your Corporate Culture Needs to Get Right – Donald Sull and Charles Sull

We lived overseas for many years and were amazed at the courtesy extended toward us and others. If I was at tea with local ladies and children entered from school, without prompting, they would go around the circle of women and greet each one of us. No matter how old they were. That was just one example of the almost ceremonial expression of hospitality wherever we found ourselves. Now, every culture has its imperfect treatment of people, but I was struck but the impact of courtesy and consideration expressed even from small children, even from teens.

Photo Credit: How to Know a Person, David Brooks, GoodReads

A verse in the Bible comes to mind related to this: “Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility consider one another as more important than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) In that moment, considering another more important than myself. A great exercise in life.

What does it take to teach, model, and reward/reenforce such qualities as consideration and courtesy such that they continue throughout life? I’d love to hear your take on this, in the Comments.

It was a sweet visit to Wawa for me. Consistent with every other visit. My favorite coffee (Hazelnut with vanilla creamer) even came free today and it’s not even Free Coffee Tuesday.

So…think about slowing down a bit and consider others just ahead of or behind you, and hold the door. If you read this far, you probably already make a habit of showing that level of care. Thank you.

Putting Others Before Yourself – 7 Great Tips – David Peach

The Power of Etiquette: How Practicing Good Manners Enhances Our Well-being

How to Teach Kids Good Manners: The True Meaning of Etiquette and Why It’s Important – Ashika Singh

The Importance of Courtesy: Lessons in Kindness and Respect – Naytik Sheth

Seven Activities for National Courtesy Month (September)

[Postscript: Below you’ll find another quote on being a friend or creating community. It goes beyond the scope of this Monday Morning Moment but is apropos to how we treat people, even in the moment, even strangers.]

Photo Credit: How to Know a Person, David Brooks, GoodReads

Monday Morning Moment – Complaining Rewires Your Brain – How to Curb (Maybe Not Stop) Complaining

Photo Credit: Stream

What’s the last thing (or person) that caused you to complain? You felt totally justified, right? When we think of the negative aspects of complaining, others come to mind as being “those people”. The complainers, the contrarians, the grumpy people, or the ones you just can never please.

For much of my early life, people who knew me well would describe me as a Pollyanna, someone who looks for the silver lining, the good in people, “the cup half full [or fuller], the possibilities. “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.” The Pollyanna turns into an accidental contrarian.

Monday Morning Moment – Spend a Minute with Pollyanna and the Contrarian – There’s a Place for Each of Us – Deb Mills

Maybe life itself changes us – dealing with hard situations, losses, failures, etc. We harden a little. We analyze, scrutinize, and make ourselves the tweakers of people and things (always looking for those little improvements that, we think, need to be made).

Once we begin to complain, we find others willing to join in. Commiserating is born. It’s not a happy community. Complaining becomes a habit and even a lifestyle, if we’re not careful.

Monday Morning Moment – Grumpy Begets Grumpy – Understanding It, Not Reacting, and Turning It Around – Deb Mills

On Sunday, we listened to Cliff Jordan‘s sermon entitled “Complaining in the Wilderness”, pondering the strangeness of a delivered and protected people’s complaints against God.

Cliff talked about how complaining actually rewires the brain – how we see others, ourselves, our circumstances, and even God. I’m not going to address the science of this, but do an online search and you’ll see how this happens and the negative outcomes of chronic complaining.

The source of complaining, Cliff noted, relates to our memory. Do we focus on the irritants to the detriment of remembering the good in our jobs, the people we work with, the many graces of life, and the kindness of God? Complaining has a stubbornness to it. It wants satisfaction and has very little patience for others. As we practice more positive thinking, we are poised, not to minimize the situation but to maximize the potential outcome…including safeguarding our relationships.

The Destructive Power of Grumbling and Complaining – Michael Brown

Andrew Kirby, a successful Youtuber and entrepreneur, actually posted a super helpful video on how complaining rewires the brain.

Kirby also acknowledged that not all complaining IS negative. When we complain about something, it’s an indicator of a change that might need to be made.

Photo Credit: Andrew Kirby, YouTube

The key is to not stay in the complaining mode but to act in a way that brings positive change. Too much complaining can drive a person to make unwise changes, based on advice given to them by sympathetic hearers of their complaints. Better to be judicious in what change needs to be made and take wise steps toward that change.

The prescription for rewiring our brain away from complaining is straightforward and easy, with practice. In fact, these four reminders could easily sit on a card at our work station to help us stay on the road and out of the ditch:

  • Be grateful. – Keep a journal and write down things/persons for which you’re grateful – morning and evening. Turn your thoughts toward gratitude when you’re tempted to go negative/complaining.
  • Catch yourself. – Shake off the temptation to complain before your friends/coworkers intervene…or pull away. Learn to catch yourself and change course.
  • Change your mood. – If your emotions start to spiral downward, shift your environment. Take a walk. Listen to music. Step away from your work station. Grab a few minutes with a friend.
  • Practice wise effort. – “Wise effort is the practice of letting go of anything that doesn’t serve you. If your worry [complaint] won’t improve your situation or teach you a lesson, simply let it go and move on.This is much easier said then done, of course, but if you write it out, ask friends for advice, and take some time to think it through constructively, it really can be done.” – Daily Health Post

All this is common sense. Still, in an age of outrage, we must practice thinking positively (refraining from chronic complaining) until it becomes a discipline…a healthy habit.

“What you practice, you get very good at.”

As that relates to complaining, do we really want to get good at that? No. In fact, practice doesn’t always make us good at something. We can practice unhelpful, unhealthy habits and they can become ingrained….even permanent…unless we intentionally do the work to reverse them.

Photo Credit: QuoteFancy

When we know something needs to change, make the complaint count by refusing to think ill of others involved and taking your concern to the right people. Make yourself part of the solution. Whenever possible, remember all the good you can. It will keep you humble and grateful.

How and Why You Should Stop Complaining – Elizabeth Scott Ph.D.

The Three Types of Complaining – Robert Biswas-Diener

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity – Travis Bradberry

How Complaining Rewires Your Brain for Negativity and Literally Kills You – Janey Davies

Monday Morning Moment – Rewiring Your Brain Toward Thinking in the Positive – Deb Mills

Monday Morning Moment – Negativism – Its Cost and Cure – Deb Mills

How to Stop Complaining: 7 Ways to Change Your Attitude – Amber Murphy

Photo Credit: Amazing Facts

Worship Wednesday – Safe – Victory Worship [Ft. Isa Fabregas]

Photo Credit: Pinterest

Soon a violent windstorm came up, and the waves were breaking over the boat, so that it was being swamped. But Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on the cushion. So they woke Him and said, “Teacher, don’t You care that we are perishing?” Then Jesus got up and rebuked the wind and the sea. “Silence!” He commanded. “Be still!” And the wind died down, and it was perfectly calm.Mark 4:37-39

We are all ships in a storm, with Jesus onboard. He is our safe harbor. Not a place but a person. Safe in Him.

I follow this young man Ian Simkins. He does these succinct devotionals that are incredibly powerful. The one below inspired me to write on this topic today.

“Apart from the Holy Spirit, the Christian life isn’t difficult. It’s impossible…

We are sailboats. God is the wind. Even tattered sails do pretty well in a windstorm.

Take heart. Raise your sail.

How do we raise our sail?

Prayer. Scripture. Community. Silence. Stillness. Rest. Service. Sacrifice. Surrender.

Keep raising your sail, Friend.

“The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” – John 3:8

“A ship in harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.” – John A. Shedd

“One cannot discover new lands unless they have the courage to lose sight of the shore.” – Andrew Gide

A pastor at The Bridge Church in Nashville, Tennessee, Ian tells the story of an Indian couple whose home he visited while on a summer in India. They were poor, but in wisdom, very rich. The wife said to him, “We pray for you Christians in America. We can’t imagine trying to be with someone like Jesus in a place as distracting as America.”

A Kenyan pastor, after a violent attack, on a university campus a few years ago, left 150 people dead, responded:

“This attack has strengthened our conviction and resolve that the safest and securest place to be is at the center of God’s will. As it has been said, “Peace is not the absence of trouble but the assurance that God is with us no matter what.”

Where Can We Be Safe? – Heidi Carlson

We have this temptation to strive for safety. For ourselves and our families. What does it even look like to be “safe”? To build a perimeter between us and anything that might present a threat. What are we teaching our children and grandchildren? That we have to protect ourselves? From what?

With Christ within, no matter what happens, no matter the hardship or worry, we have a profound safe harbor in Him.

Just yesterday, I discovered that Tyler Staton, a young brother and spiritual father of mine, is in treatment for recurrent cancer. He is lead pastor for Bridgetown Church in Portland, Oregon and the author of the transformative book Praying Like Monks, Living Like Fools.

In a video recently, Tyler gave a health update on how he is with treatment and in his walk with God through this cancer recurrence. He commented on how God is a master story-teller and is writing our stories. He calls us to “say yes to the story He’s writing” and step into/walk in that story. Tyler reported on how he was praying both Psalm 23 and Psalm 21. Psalm 23 reminds Tyler of “green pasture” and “still water” days and also days “in the shadow of death” – they are all part of our lives. Tyler expressed his desire “for God’s presence more than His power”. He also is praying Psalm 21 (“maybe hedging (his) bets with God”) which is a cry for God to lengthen his days – to grow old with his wife Kirsten and to see his children’s children.

From the time I first read Tyler’s book and returned to it many times since, I’m not at all surprised at how he has faced this cancer.

Does Tyler feel safe? I’m not even sure that is even the point for him. He wants to receive whatever God has for him, and if cancer is a part of that, then he receives it. Will he battle it? Absolutely. However you do not hear him recoil from God or question the His goodness in this. It is just part of the story of Tyler’s life.

Rather than safety as we might count it and go after it in this crazy world…let’s reconsider and deepen our understanding of how safe we are in Christ Jesus’ keeping.

Worship with me with Victory Worship‘s anthem “Safe”.

[Verse 1]
Under Your grace, Your mercy amazes me
Under Your wings, Your shadow covers me
Your promise of love, where my heart is safely undone

[Verse 2]
Speak to me, Lord, Your servant is listening
Over the noise, I hear You whispering
My hope has come and my heart is safely undone

[Chorus]
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name
Forever safe

[Verse 2]
Speak to me, Lord, Your servant is listening
Over the noise, I hear You whispering
My hope has come and my heart is safely undone, oh-oh

[Chorus]
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name

[Post-Chorus]
Forever safe, forever safe
Forever safe, forever safe

[Bridge]
You are never far away
Always reaching out to save
My weakness covered by Your strength
And I am found forever safe
You are never far away
Always reaching out to save
My weakness covered by Your strength
And I am found forever safe

[Chorus]
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name
Forever safe
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name
I found my fortress, in You
And my soul is anchored, with You
My resting place, is in Your name
Forever safe*

*Lyrics to “Safe” – Songwriters: Lee Simon Brown, Moira Dela Torre, Juan Winans & Justin Gray

On Feeling Secure in God – John Piper

How Should Christians View Safety? – Brooks Buser

[The video below is a scene from The Chosen. It is based on the account of Jesus walking on rough waters and Peter coming out of the boat to Him. As long as Peter kept his eyes on Jesus, he was safe. This passage, like the one in Mark above, speaks to our safety in the midst of a storm as long as He holds us. Lots more to this story…but the scene beautifully demonstrates it.]

Photo Credit: Julian of Norwich, Cedarfield Pinnacle Living Readings and Reflections for Lent 2019