Relationships

Repentance that Lasts a Lifetime (part one)

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I thank God for the gift of repentance. For the provision in the atonement, of forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration of relationship when I do.  What’s troubled me, though, is how often I seem to be “returning to the well”: asking forgiveness over and over again for the same things.

What about you?

Since “repentance” means to turn and walk the other way, why is it that we so often turn back?

Why do we repent of our repentance? 

I get that I’m fallen.  Human.  Frail.  All that.  And I get that Christ lives in me [Col 1:27].  That God has given me everything I need for life and godliness [2 Pt 1:3].

So, what of all this repenting and turning back and repenting again?

What does it take for repentance to stick?

Long ago, when I was a devoted “King James Christian”, 2 Corinthians 7:10 caught my attention. “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death.”  Godly sorrow produces repentance we don’t repent of.  Repentance that sticks!

So, what kind of sorrow is “godly”?  How does God sorrow that is so different than the “sorrow of the world”?

When the “world” sorrows, it sorrows for itself.  It is sorry it got caught.  It is sorry for its loss.  It is sorry things didn’t turn out better. Sorry there are prices to be paid because of its poor choices.  Sad that it behaved the way it did.  Poor decisions produced outcomes it didn’t intend or choose.

That’s why worldly sorrow leads to death.

It is self-consumed.

Consider how differently God sorrows.  As mentioned last time, when God sorrows, it is for us.  Why did Jesus weep at the tomb?  He was impaled by the grief of Mary and those who loved her and Lazarus [Jn 11:35].

As Jesus approaches Jerusalem, he contemplates the difficulty that’s about to befall its residents, and he weeps for them [Lk19:41-44]God’s concern is not himself but others.

And, I think, that’s the key.

Repentance that sticks emerges from truly and deeply and honestly and gut-wrenchingly sorrowing for others.

In particular, for those our sinfulness has hurt.

This kind of repentance requires that we drink deeply from the cup of their suffering.  The suffering we have brought on, whether intended or not.

It is slow, awful work to honestly consider the impact of our selfishness on others.  To climb into their skin and feel the pain we’ve caused them.

Yes, it’s horrible.

And, life-giving.

The seedbed of envy

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I remember it well.  Helping with a character development workshop in Grand Rapids, my trainer, Lawrence Edwards, made this startling observation: Comparison is the seedbed of envy. 

Huh?

Envy – that ugly, distasteful character defect that fuels pettiness, judgments, isolation, and division – grows in the soil of comparison?

I never thought about that before… comparison.

Hmmmm.  I do that a lot, I thought.

It’s been how I orient myself in life. 

“She’s much smarter than I am, but him — not so much”.  “That guy’s career is in better shape than mine, I’m glad I’m not in her shoes”.  “Shoot, I’m fatter than she is, but not as heavy as that slob…”.

Comparison seems so natural. In my marriage with Annie the thought stream is endless: which of us is messier, better with money, more consistent with the kids, more creative, less fun to be around, healthier, harder working, better with people, etc, etc, etc.

Comparison, I learned, breeds envy and it’s impossible to love the one I envy.  Impossible.

See, comparison invites me to focus on all the areas where you and I are different. Rather than serving to bring us together, the practice of comparison divides, distances, isolates.

So while the differences between us may be real they don’t have to be important — at all.  It’s possible to surrender the practice. It can be eradicated from your thinking.  I can choose to focus on what we share; what we have in common; what connects us.  The more I do this, the more rich and satisfying my relationships.

In coaching this practice is indispensable.  To coach well, I ‘get on the same side of the table’ as my client.  When a client perceives that we’re together, she’s less defended, more open to what I bring.  Conversely, if you sense that I think I’m better than you, even if you believe you could benefit, you’ll likely resist what I have to say.

Ever sat with a couple heading for divorce? 

It’s terrible.  All they choose to see is what divides them.  As if they’ve made a ritual of examining and magnifying every difference between them while ignoring and overlooking the wonderful things they have in common.

Envy, jealously, resentment, bitterness – these grow in the seedbed of comparison.  Unchecked, they’re deadly to intimacy, to collaborative effectiveness at work, to friendship.

Catch yourself comparing.  Catch yourself ten times in the next week or two.  With Thanksgiving family reunions on the horizon it shouldn’t be hard. When you do, choose to find something you two have in common — and focus on that.

Watch what God does in your relationships, and your heart, as you do.

Coaching Distinctions # 4

Leadership Courage Series

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#4: The Responsibility Riddle

QUESTION:  Pastor, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

ANSWER:  I am, of course!

Ok, fine.  Now answer this…

QUESTION: Pastor, who is responsible for the spiritual maturity and vitality of your congregation?

ANSWER:  Again, I am!

Really?  Are you sure?

If you are responsible for your congregation’s spiritual maturity, what are they responsible for?

Er… Um… Uh…  Ask me that again??

There’s a troubling trend in the Church these days.  We, in ministry, see the evidence of this all the time.  It can be found in a complaint, and more often than not, the complaint sounds something like this:   “I’m just not getting fed, here…”  “I don’t experience the presence of God here…”  “The worship no longer ministers to me…”.  And then off they go, out the door, on to another church, or maybe to no church at all.

The thinking, both of the pastor above, and the complaining congregants flows from the same fallacy: that the pastor, the church, the elders are somehow responsible for the spiritual condition of those they serve.

Thinking like this, it’s no wonder the Church is diapered in perpetual spiritual infancy.

Isn’t it?

So, you who are reading this blog, who is responsible for your spiritual maturity and vitality?

You are.

Only you.

The responsibility riddle can be solved in this important, seldom recognized distinction:  Your pastor is responsible to you, but is not responsible for you.

Think about it.  A pastor is responsible to the congregation to model mature faith in action, to proclaim God’s Word faithfully, to represent Christ ethically.   Each believer is responsible for what they do with the Word of God: both the preached Word and the Word that sits in their lap, on the bookshelf, or on the coffee table gathering dust.

Are you responsible for your spouse’s happiness?  Of course not!  How could you be?  If you husband has handed you “the keys” to his emotional well being- give them back!

Now.

When you notice that someone has tried to make you responsible for whatever it is that God has made them responsible for – their attitudes, their behavior, their “stress”, their decisions, their depression, their optimism – invite them to embrace this reality: you may have a responsibility to them, but can never be responsible for them.

Do I have a responsibility to Annie, my wife?  Absolutely!  I am responsible to keep my promises to her.  I’ve promised to value her above every breathing human being.  I’ve promised to honor her whether she deserves it or not.  I’ve promised to pray for her.  I’ve promised to champion her toward all God’s called her to be.  I’ve promised to be faithful sexually and emotionally.  I’ve promised to walk with God and to submit my life to Jesus and his Word.  And, I promised to treat her better than she deserves.

And, she is responsible for herself.  Completely.

When our kids were small and unable to take responsibility for themselves, as parents we bore the responsibility for them.  When our pre-teen had a friend over, and they snuck out at night and lit a porta-potty on fire, we were legally responsible—because they were minors and under our supervision.

Now that he’s in his twenties, it would be foolish to take responsibility for his decisions.  In fact, it would be irresponsible of us to do so.  To take responsibility for another adult is a violation of his or her autonomy. It is an invasion of their sovereignty.  And, I believe it represents a kind of abuse.

Yes.  Abuse.

When you are with an otherwise capable adult as if they were incapable of adult choices and incapable of bearing the adult consequences for those choices, what is your impact – really – on that person?  What is the “fruit” that is produced when you persuade another to live irresponsibly?

The distinction of being responsible to vs. responsible for is central for any of us in leadership. There’s actually great freedom when you are clear about this distinction, and lead in such a way that those you influence are clear about it too.

To stand in life responsible to others and responsible for your own emotional being and destiny may call for courage you’ve not been willing to summon, up ‘till now.

I say, it’s time to call it up!

Leadership Skills Series- Being in Conflict

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Principle #8- Who gets to choose?

This entry concludes the Being in Conflict series.  At least for now.  While there is much for a Christian leader to learn when in conflict — if you choose to apply it — today’s principle will keep you from falling into conflict, a great deal of the time.

So, if you’d prefer to minimize your participation in conflicts from now on, listen up!

As with each of the articles in this Leadership Skills Series, this principle will make a lot of sense to you… and I bet you rarely apply it.  And this you do to your own relational and leadership peril.

Here it is: Principle #8- Who gets to choose?

Who chooses your choices?

Who decides your decisions?

Who determines your attitudes, whether and when you forgive, when and why you finally get off some offense or other?

The answer is ridiculously apparent: You do.

Simple.

Obvious.

“So what?” you say.

Here’s what: most of your conflicts erupt when you forget this simple, obvious reality:  You don’t get to choose anybody else’s choices.

Now now.

Not ever.

You never have and you never will.

And yet, in your most challenging relationships, you behave as if you do. Don’t you?

Think about it.

You imagine that you choose how much your daughter is online.  How much your wife spends on shoes.  How and when your son does his homework.  Right?  You say: “We have strict guidelines in our home about how much time Sophia gets to be online.  Susan has a strict budget—including shoes.  Bert knows he has to do all his homework before TV.”  And, you think that because these things are true, that Sophia, and Susan, and Bert are not deciding every single day whether and to what extent they live within these carefully-defined parameters?

I assert that they choose.  Every time. Just like you did when you were a kid.

Their choice is always theirs—just as your choices are yours.

Most of your conflicts erupt when you forget that you only get to choose your choices.  An autonomous human being does what every single human being does every single moment of every single day: she chooses. And you go berserk because you think somehow you’re entitled to choose other people’s choices. Don’t you?

Think about it.

Small things.

Dumb things.

Big things.

Important things.

Eternal things.

God, who is omnipotent, knows everything, is eternal and sovereign set it up that we get to choose all our choices. And, sometimes (maybe much of the time) God weeps over the choices we make.

I invite you to consider just how different your life could be if you lived as if everyone around you makes their own decisions—every time.  Imagine a life when you’re not manipulating, pressing, challenging, shaming, guilting, or being “so disappointed” in the decisions of those around you.

Imagine the impact on those you say you love. Consider their lives when out from under the weight of your expectations, disappointments, and judgments.

Freedom?

What if you trusted people to make their own decisions and to live into the reality that those decisions open and close for them? You could sorrow with them, without being ashamed of them.  The confidence you display in those near you might invite them to make great choices—surprising both you and them!

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