photo: Johnny Ainsworth, Creative Commons

photo: Johnny Ainsworth, Creative Commons

The church has always been a controversial place. Everyone has a different opinion, and church culture and beliefs smash up against the beliefs of the world like two monsters in a truck rally. We’ve crushed each other for all of history, the upper hand shifting back and forth from us to them, and it seems like the debates and the misunderstanding are only getting uglier.

It’s a tense place we live in. We’re sandwiched between church culture and popular culture, trying to keep our footing.

But what do we do when our next-door neighbors live in a way we fundamentally disagree with? It’s difficult to know how to act. Either we befriend them, which seems like condoning their sin. Or we keep our distance and our moral integrity.

But neither feels right.

There’s the old phrase, “love the sinner, hate the sin,” but even that doesn’t seem to help. Our hate isn’t known for its accuracy, and often misses its target. Having your sin hated doesn’t exactly feel the same as being loved.

So what do we do? How do we love people without condoning their sin?

The answer isn’t easy to live out, certainly, but when I feel stuck, I always look back at how Jesus did things.

If I had to boil down Jesus’ treatment of others in one phrase it would be this: Jesus saw people as people.

When Jesus met the woman at the well, He met the woman, not her sin. He didn’t see her as an adulteress, or a woman who had gone through several husbands. He saw her as a woman—saw her heart, her struggles, her needs, her deepest desires.

I bet you Jesus would never tell you He ate with sinners and tax collectors.

Instead, I bet He’d tell you their names, and the wonderful things God placed in their hearts. When the woman came and anointed His feet with oil, Jesus saw the woman and her love, not her sin.

This is where I think we most often miss the mark. We often see people’s sin long before we ever see the people buried under it.

Good friends of ours live next door to a gay couple. They’re the kindest women—funny, and caring. But so often I think we refer to people living differently than us the way I just did: “The gay couple living next door,” instead of mentioning their names, or their stories, or the great thing we noticed about them when we met.

Jesus modeled so much for us and sometimes it can feel overwhelming trying to become more like Him. But when I look through the scriptures, I notice one thing above all the rest.

Jesus treated people like people, not people like their sin.

What would it look like for us to implement this in our lives? What would it look like to meet people, and look in their eyes, and ask their name, and hear their story? What would it look like to intentionally see people for who they are instead of for what they’re doing?

I think we’d find ourselves being much kinder, much more compassionate, much more loving.

Most of all, I think we’d find ourselves looking much more like Jesus.

photo: Michael Reilly, Creative Commons

photo: Michael Reilly, Creative Commons

This may feel like a strange exercise, but I want you to think about someone you really don’t like. Think about a person you avoid when possible, the person at work that seems to cut your fuse in half.

Got them in your mind?

Good.

Now, I want you to think about a characteristic in them that makes them so unlikeable. Try to think of deeper ones, not the fact that she keeps her desk messy, or the way he eats his lunch.

Now I bet I can pinpoint the cause of most (if not all) of their frustrating, unlikeable behavior.

Are you ready?

That person has no idea who they are. 

Think about it for a moment. When you feel insecure, what do you do? You assert your opinions extra loudly, trying to compensate for the smallness you feel on the inside. You become bossy or controlling. You become needy, looking for affirmation anywhere you can find it. You apologize constantly or ask for reassurance often. You try to put on a mask, hoping that will help you fit in.

These are all characteristics of someone who doesn’t really know who they are and who is looking for affirmation and belonging.

Have you ever been this person? I have.

The hard part about it is that these characteristics don’t make us more likeable, they are actually really frustrating for the people in our lives. They make us seem bossy or inauthentic, like we’re trying too hard. Our attempts to fit in end up pushing people further away. It’s hard for those people but even harder for us.

If you, like most of us, want to become more likeable, the thing you really need to do is figure out who you are.

You need to ask God who you are and what you’re worth. 

You need to embark on a journey of self-discovery, figuring out what you’re good at, what you have to offer, and what you believe to be true about the world.

When we know these things about ourselves, and we have God breathing our worth into us instead of asking for it from the world, we become much more likeable.

We no longer feel the need to be pushy or to prove we’re smart/powerful/capable enough. We are able to listen to people instead of doing all of the talking. We are able to be in real relationships with people instead of constantly trying to gain their approval, get their affirmation, or convince them we are someone we’re not.

If we want people to like us, we first need to know us. 

It’s a process, and not an easy one. But it’s a worthwhile venture, a path that will take us to a place where we are not only more likeable, but we like ourselves more.

And when we come across these people who frustrate us, what if we saw them through eyes of compassion instead of being frustrated by their behavior? They’re on a journey of discovering their worth just like we are.

photo: Amplified Group, Creative Commons

photo: Amplified Group, Creative Commons

I admit it: I’m a bit of a leadership junkie. I love reading books about leadership, hearing about the newest theories, and studying the techniques of great leaders. My passion also means that whenever there’s a new show on TV about leadership or starting a business, I have to check it out.

One of my new favorites is called The Profit, where successful businessman Marcus Lemonis partners with failing businesses to both bail them out and help them up.

It resembles Shark Tank slightly, because Lemonis invests large amounts of money into these businesses. But it’s grittier too.

It’s not just about the money. It’s about turning the business around.

Recently, I watched an episode about a used car dealership that was about 7 million dollars in debt. Lemonis came in and offered the owner several million dollars to start paying down his debt on the condition that he would hand over control to Lemonis.

“I’m going to be 100% in charge,” is Lemonis’s catch phrase, and it fits. He takes the reigns, fixing broken things about the business and implementing better business practices.

Of course, the owner of the company protests at first. After all, it’s his business. But what it really comes down to is that the owner had no idea what he’s doing and Lemonis does. This is a repeating theme of the show.

In this case, the owner of the dealership had invested a good portion of his money in big screen TVs for the waiting room and an arcade in one corner. On the lot he had about 20 cars for sale—all unique, all luxury, all overpriced. So when customers would come in looking for a car, every one of them would walk away empty-handed because the selection was sparse and the cars were too expensive.

When Lamonis took over the dealership, he really took it over. 

He completely remodeled the showroom, filling empty space with car parts and accessories, making every inch of the expansive building profitable. He sold off the few high-priced luxury cars the owner had on the lot and replaced them with a whole fleet of more moderately priced vehicles that would actually sell. He even changed the name of the business to attract customers who had come and left empty handed—showing them that it was “a new day” for the dealership.

For someone who is 7 million dollars in debt, this sounds like a great situation: money, expertise, and help; it sounds like an answered prayer to me.

But that was not the owner’s reaction. In fact, it rarely is. 

The common thread among the business owners on the show is that they’re all stubborn and prideful to a fault. They have a way of doing things they think is best and even when the numbers are a flashing sign that their plan doesn’t work, they refuse to change their ways.

As the viewer, it’s infuriating. Even when the owner was 7 million dollars in debt, and even when he had a billionaire investor there to help him turn things around, he fought it because he refused to believe he could be wrong.

It seems ridiculous as you’re watching it. I find myself pleading with the television as if the guy can hear me. “Are you kidding? Do what he says!”

Yet when I take the time to reflect on my own behavior, I see some of the same themes.

Leaders are leaders because they have an idea of where they want to go. 

They see a problem and a way of solving it, and they run after it with all of their time, money, energy, and passion. We need leaders like this—we need people who care enough to make changes, to start something new, and to take a risk. The problem comes when leaders aren’t willing to adapt their course.

The truth is that being a leader doesn’t mean you know more than everyone else. Being a leader doesn’t mean you always know the right answer or are able to do things all on your own. The best leaders don’t operate this way.

Instead, the best leaders bring a team of people around them. They have a group of confidants, advisors, and people who are strong in areas where they’re weak.

This is what these business owners are lacking.

They’re lacking the courage to admit they don’t know everything and the wisdom to bring a team around them, heeding their advice.

Admitting we can’t do everything is hard on our pride, but our pride was never something to hold on to in the first place. We need a team around us helping us, guiding us, and we need to actually listen to them.

But most of all, we need to be willing to admit we don’t know everything—to listen and learn from people who are able to help.

Humility can be a hard pill to swallow as a leader, but it’s worth the discomfort. Because when we let go of our pride, we can take hold of so much more.

photo: Francesco, Creative Commons

photo: Francesco, Creative Commons

One of the worst feelings in the world, I’m convinced, is worrying. Many of us do our best (or worst) worrying late at night. We lie there, staring at the ceiling, wondering what time it is and wishing our minds would quiet down. Worst case scenarios are flipping through our minds like slideshows, and no matter how many deep breaths we take, we can’t get our heartbeat to slow down.

What do you worry about?

  • Do you worry about finances or how you’re going to send your kids to college?
  • Do you worry about your teenagers getting into trouble or if your son is going to pass his required math class?
  • Do you worry about your marriage, or about your spouse, or about their health, or about yours?
  • Do you worry about home repairs, or car repairs, or just how many tires you’re going to have to replace this time around?
  • Do you worry about rejection, or about your aging parents, or about having your heart broken?
  • Do you worry about not being good enough, or making the wrong decision, or trying your hardest and still failing.

Every one of us worries. Each one of us has a list of things that keep us up at night—that plagues us with worst case scenarios making it impossible to fall asleep. Each one of us feels out of control in different parts of our lives, or feels like what we’re carrying is far too heavy for what we’re capable of.

What do you worry about?

I want you to call it to mind right now, because I want you to notice what those things are. Often worry is something that goes unnoticed; we start to regard our anxiety as a normal thing, a part of our daily lives. But just like secrets, worry is more dangerous when it is allowed to stay in the dark. So what are you worried about? What keeps you up at night?

Now that you have those things in your mind, I want to propose an idea that may seem ridiculous at first.

What would you say if I told you that your worry in those areas of your life could actually bring you closer to God?

You might think I’m crazy.

I bet you’re expecting to hear the verses in Matthew when Jesus tells us not to worry, but that’s not where we’re headed.

Instead of telling you not to worry, something that is far easier said than done, I have a way where your worry can actually be productive instead of the thing that robs you of both your sanity and your sleep. Here’s how:

Every time you worry, pray.

Use your worry as a reminder to pray about that very thing.

It’s a discipline very few of us have mastered. We worry… and we worry some more, our fear growing exponentially the further we let it roll. But with some intentionality we can retrain our mind, using our worry as an alarm clock to pray.

“How am I going to pay for college?” you may start to wonder. In that instant, what if you prayed for that very thing?

“How am I going to pay for college?” with a bit of practice turns into: “God, I know that you love my kids more than I do. Please provide a way for them to go to college. Please help me save the money, or provide a way I can’t see right now. But please help them go to college.”

Here’s another example. 

“What if my husband gets sick?” turns into: “God, please take care of my husband’s physical well-being. Please bolster his immune system, and heal him of those headaches he always gets when he’s stressed out. Please take care of him physically and make him healthier than he’s ever been. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

When we discipline our minds to pray when we’re worried, then worry becomes a positive thing—it sparks prayer. When we pray for the things that worry us, we’re trusting God with those things. We’re handing them over to Him, reminding Him (and ourselves) that we trust Him with the things closest to our hearts and that He is in control.

Best of all, by praying we’re doing the very best thing we can for that situation, we’re giving it back to God.

photo: sarah bryant, Creative Commons

photo: sarah bryant, Creative Commons

Over the years I’ve been in countless groups, prayer teams, clubs, Bible studies—you name it, I’ve been a part of it. A cornerstone of this kind of Christian community is prayer requests. Sometimes it’s formal, sometimes it’s a quick text message, but either way it goes like this:

Person A:

“Hey, I could really use prayer about ________ in my life. Will you pray for me?”

Person B:

“Of course!”

This is how it always goes.

This isn’t a new conversation or a revolutionary one. In fact, if the conversation went any differently, we’d be shocked. What if Person B said no or that they really don’t have time? Then we’d be shocked. We’d be appalled, calling to mind all the verses we could think of about praying for each other and being in community.

So why aren’t we appalled when it turns out Person B lied?

I won’t make you admit it right here and now, but I want you to remember the last time you were in a situation like this.

Now, when was the last time you actually prayed like you said you would.

We don’t do this on purpose. We don’t say yes, and then intentionally decide not to pray. We mean to pray for this person, but all too often life gets in the way.

If we were to continue this interaction between persons A and B, we’d find that Person B got another text message right after they said they’d pray, or that they’d received the prayer request while sitting in car line picking up their kids from school. We’d find that Person B’s mind was swept away by any one of the distractions we face every day almost the second they received the prayer request, and that prayer was never prayed.

I think we can all relate to this. 

So what do we do? We want to be the kinds of people who really pray for each other, who live in real community, who support each other. How do we go from platitudes like, “of course I’ll pray for you!” and not really doing it, to the kind of community where we stand beside each other in prayer?

Here are a few ideas:

1. Set an alarm.

We use alarms and reminders for everything else in our lives, why not prayer? My best prayer happens when I set a reminder on my phone.

When the alarm goes off, I remove myself from whatever I’m doing to pray for a few minutes.

It interrupts my day just enough to help me remember, but its not an inconvenience of any kind. I look forward to this part of my day when I know I’m truly coming alongside the people I love and fighting for them in prayer.

2. Keep prayer requests in plain sight.

We’re not great at keeping large quantities of details in our heads all at the same time, and so when someone adds something else, it’s likely to get forgotten. Have a place where you write down prayer requests. Keep it on your desk, or on your bathroom mirror, or in the car. That way whenever you see it, you’ll be reminded to pray and what to pray for.

3. Keep track of answers.

It’s discouraging to send up half-hearted prayers for the people in our lives and to never see them answered. But so often this is what happens. It’s not that God isn’t answering our prayers, but rather, we never check back to find out what happened.

Just like anything else in life, we’re much more likely to be diligent with something when we know how important it is. When we know healthy eating gives us more energy, we’re more likely to eat better. When we watch as our friends’ lives are transformed by prayer, we’re much more likely to pray.

If you have prayer requests written down, every few weeks go back and check in with the people you’ve been praying for. When your prayer is answered, write the answer next to the request. It’ll be a tangible testimony of God’s faithfulness to answer our prayers. There’s nothing more motivating than that.