Showing the Way Out

I’ve long joked that sympathy is overrated. When things are going bad for me, I really don’t want someone to tell me they know how I feel. I want someone to come and say, “Yes, I know how you feel and I know the way out.”

I think we forget how completely sin messes up our lives. Sin not only messes up our lives, it messes up the way our minds and bodies work. Ever talked to people trying to justify their addiction? In their minds, they’re making complete sense. That’s what happens. Sin destroys relationships, bodies, minds, and souls.

That’s why telling someone what they’re doing is wrong without offering to help them get out of it is, well, pretty much a waste of time. You may feel better, but the person you’re talking to won’t. What’s more, they’ll probably just get mad and walk away, more committed to their destructive choices.

Jesus shows us another way.

First, Jesus never confronted anybody without giving that person a way out. The religious leaders of the day, Jesus pointed out, were quick to make a lot of rules but never helped anyone keep them. Jesus would always point the person to the way out of bondage.

Second, Jesus walked with sinners as they found their way. The scandal of the incarnation is that God loves us so much that He came into our world. He walked into our lives and told us if we’d follow Him, He’d show us the way home.

Whenever I talk about abortion, I always mention our partnership with Hope Clinic, a crisis pregnancy center in Nashville. I always want people to know there are people eager and ready to help, no matter what situation they’re facing.

Since the beginning of time, God has been on a divine rescue mission. We, the local church, are extensions of that work. Finding the lost is great, but telling them the way home—and then walking it with them—is even better.

A Few Laughs Along the Way

If you talk to a couple that has been married a long time and ask them about the secret of their marriage, you’ll hear the same answer: a good sense of humor. Then, the couple will look at each other and laugh. The way they will look at each other will let you know that you just don’t get the joke. Who knows what they’re thinking about? The time they ran out of gas trying to get back home? The time they were too broke to buy presents, but ended up having the best Christmas ever? The night they sat up with a sick child taking turns singing lullabies so the child would sleep?

If you’ve been married any length of time, you know laughter can get you through the most unbearable moments. Laughter is the oil on troubled waters. Laughter makes life livable. When we laugh, even in life’s toughest moments, we’re able take a breath, find our bearings, and make our way through it. Laughter is God’s good gift to us.

Laughter keeps us from taking ourselves a little too seriously. Who hasn’t had the “gift” of a spouse laughing at them when they need to be brought down a peg or two? (Does that happen to everyone or is that just Jeannie’s “special ministry” to me?)

Laughter brings forgiveness. When you can laugh at a painful mistake, the healing has started.

Laughter brings joy. If one person starts laughing, you just about have to join them.

A couple that can laugh together is a couple that can face the fears of life head on. There’s a joy in the laughter that darkness can’t suppress. So, make it your goal to laugh a little every day. Tell stories. Watch movies. Share remembrances. Act foolish. Do what you have to do, but laugh.

You’ll live longer doing it…and enjoy it a lot more.

Happy Birthday, Jeannie!

Today is my wife’s birthday and yes, she’s 29 again. For her birthday, she wanted to visit her mom. So, over the weekend, she flew to Columbia, SC and spent a few days with her family. Because of my schedule, she doesn’t get to go home as much as she wants and her birthday proved to be a good time to do just that.

Her absence gave me time to remember all of the reasons I love her.

Our house was all boys. We have twin sons and even our dogs and cats were male. Jeannie never had a chance. Anytime she bought something nice, it wasn’t too long before one of us used it as a football or third base for one our front yard baseball games. Jeannie was the softness of our home. She was the one who taught our boys about beauty and how to treat a lady. If our boys were sick, no one but Jeannie could touch them. For some reason, Tylenol given by her worked better than Tylenol given by me. She was and is a great mom to our sons. For me, she’s never more beautiful than when she’s taking care of our boys.

Mike and Jeannie

Jeannie is funny. She’s one of the few people who can make me laugh out loud. One of our family’s classic phrases comes from her. We were talking about a young friend who was having a hard time getting his life together. She looked at me and said, “It’s like he’s searching for something beyond what he’s looking for…” In the context of the conversation, that quote made perfect sense, but now it’s taken on a life of its own. Anytime we find ourselves in a situation where we can’t figure out what to do, “we’re searching for something beyond what we’re looking for.” Jeannie has a way of keeping our lives grounded and her humor is one of the ways she does that.

Once when Jeannie was asked what she did in the church, she put her arm around me and answered, “I take care of the pastor.” And she does. She is my safe place. The one place I can go and just breathe. I know that nothing I say in those moments, nothing I feel in those moments will catch her off guard and be brought up again. I’m safe. And for a pastor, there’s nothing more valuable than knowing there’s a safe place where you can go and be protected. Jeannie is that for me. If you’re part of the 11 o’clock service, you see her come to the front and pray with me. What you can’t hear is the prayer she prays over me. I pray every husband has the gift of hearing his wife call his name in prayer while she’s praying for those things that sometimes you just can’t voice yourself.

She believes in me. I’m braver, more courageous, and stronger because of her. I’m also more attentive, more compassionate, and a little less judgmental because of her. She is God’s best gift to me and I’m more in love with her now than I’ve ever been in the past.

Happy birthday, Jeannie. I love you more than words can say.

How Do You Communicate Vision?

The other day, a parent in our church pulled me aside and said, “I have to tell you this. Last night when we were reading our Bible stories with our son, he took the Bible from our hands and said really loud, “This is God’s Word for God’s people. Hear it, believe it, and live.” Then she patted my arm and walked off laughing.

Here’s the joke. On Sunday mornings, after I read the sermon passage, I hold up the Bible and say, “This is God’s Word for God’s People. Hear it, believe it, and live.” I’ve said that same phrase every Sunday for over twenty-three years.

There is always a lot of discussion among leaders about how often something has to be said before our congregations hear it. While we don’t have all the answers to this, here’s what we do know. Saying something once doesn’t work. The first reason is that on any given Sunday, there are several members of your church who, for whatever reason, aren’t there. The second reason is that of those who are there, half of them aren’t listening.

It just has to be said a lot. The experts disagree about how many times—some say six times, some say more—but we all agree it’s more than once. Here’s what I’ve learned. The number depends. What does it depend on? How important the message is.

If it’s an announcement, once or twice will do. But if it’s vision, as a leader you say it every time you speak—in one way or another.

In every sermon, in every address, you always find a way to talk about the vision and/or a significant strategy needed to accomplish the greater vision. How will you know when you’re successful in this?

You’ll know when your people start using your words to describe the vision.

And how long does that take? I don’t know about you, but it took me every Sunday for twenty-three years.

What about you? How do you work to communicate your vision? How long does it take you?