Four Steps for Better Relationships

As I have been studying for my Masters of Counseling it seems as if there is an immediate application in my own life but also in those that I work with. It’s as if I receive something in my left hand, hold that learning in both of my hands, and then hand off that learning to someone else with my right hand. Here is one of those learnings that I want to pass along to you:

Recently one evening, I was logged in to a Townsend Virtual Class. Believe me, this is basically three hours of drinking from the firehose. The last hour was filled with people getting to personally ask Dr. John Townsend questions. Think about this opportunity for a second—Dr. Townsend is who started my Masters course, who it’s named after, and has written or co-written 30 books, selling over 10 million copies! Anyway, during that third hour, a woman shared a personal story of her dad who had been recently diagnosed with cancer. Her relationship with her dad had been strained and she hoped to make the most of the time that he had left. Dr. Townsend gave the following four steps and they just blew me away because they are so applicable to so many different relationships.

Step 1: Give up the need for the other person to be a better person.

In my own words, I would say, “stop trying to control the other person”–as if we could control another person anyway! We spend so much time and effort trying, and yet frustrate them and us in the process. In this step, we stop yelling and screaming at them or we stop trying to change them through our passive-aggressive behavior. I’m not saying this is easy work, it may be the hardest step in this whole journey. As an example, Jesus never forced anyone to follow him. Matter of fact, there were times where he willingly watched some walk away (e.g. Judas, the rich young ruler).

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Step 2: Grieve the relationship not being what you wanted it to be.

We all have needs that we need to be fulfilled by other people in our lives. But if the person that we’re talking about here is not able to fulfill those needs, we need to grieve. Grieving isn’t just for when someone dies, it is for anytime something doesn’t match up with our expectations and/or needs. Grief also seems to be a cure for almost everything. The Bible says, “It is better to go to the house of mourning than to go to the house of feasting, for this is the end of all mankind, and the living will lay it to heart. Sorrow is better than laughter, for by sadness of face the heart is made glad. The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (Ecclesiastes 7:2-4 ESV)


Step 3: Replace whatever functions they had with good people.

We are created for community. Remember in step 2 that we had needs. We don’t pretend that we don’t have those needs and remember that we’ve stopped trying to get the needs fulfilled by this person, so we turn to safe people to get those needs fulfilled. This may include people such as a good friend, support group, trusted individual in your church, a professional counselor, somebody who works at your church, or a safe family member. “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil. For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up! Again, if two lie together, they keep warm, but how can one keep warm alone? And though a man might prevail against one who is alone, two will withstand him—a threefold cord is not quickly broken.” (Ecclesiastes 4:9-12)


Step 4: Love them with whatever time is left.

If we truly work through steps one through three, this becomes the reward. Now we get to enjoy the relationship from a new perspective. We can accept the other person from what they can and are willing to give us. “If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.” (Romans 12:18)


In summary: Renounce, grieve, replace, love. Dr. Townsend said that sometimes this can happen quickly, sometimes it takes a lot of time.

As I pass this on to you (out of my right hand) I pray that it impacts you and helps you in your relationships like I have found it to be helping mine!


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Overwhelmed by All the Milk Rings

When Cathy and I were first married we got a cat that we affectionately called “Kitty the Ripper.” We didn’t have a television, so Kitty was our entertainment. One of the things that she absolutely loved to play with were milk rings. You know, the piece that is left behind on the jug when you open a new gallon of milk. Different types of milk, and different manufacturers, would have different colors of milk rings, so we collected every color we could find. Our milk ring collection grew into the hundreds. Kitty would jump to the top of the fridge to knock a milk ring down, she would bat them around the floor, get them up on her paw, and scoot them everywhere. It was a riot! One of the things that she didn’t know what to do with was when you would dump a whole bunch of milk rings on the floor at one time. It’s like her brain was overloaded and she couldn’t keep them all under control so she didn’t know where to start.


Here we are in the season of Advent. Pastor got up on Sunday and did the announcements: Wednesday is service and a meal, the Sweet Sale is on Friday, Children’s Service practice is on Saturday, on and on they went. I thought to myself, “December, here we go.” But is it right that we are so busy when we are celebrating Advent and Christmas? I guess I wouldn’t be writing this blog if I didn’t think the answer is “no, we shouldn’t.”

Advent is not just a time of preparation for Christmas—the celebration of God sending his Son the first time. It is also a time of preparation for Christ’s second coming. Jesus talked about his second coming in Luke, chapter 17:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.”

And he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will desire to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. And they will say to you, ‘Look, there!’ or ‘Look, here!’ Do not go out or follow them. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must suffer many things and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all— so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, let the one who is on the housetop, with his goods in the house, not come down to take them away, and likewise let the one who is in the field not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. I tell you, in that night there will be two in one bed. One will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding together. One will be taken and the other left.” And they said to him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (20-37, ESV)

I don’t think it is too much of a stretch to compare “eating and drinking,” “marrying and being given in marriage,” “buying and selling,” “planting and building” to the busyness of the Christmas season. Jesus gave some pretty ominous warnings like being turned into a pillar of salt, being drowned in a world-wide flood, and even vultures gathering to eat a corpse!

Truly, I do not want to be a wet blanket during this Advent season. Rather, I want all of us, myself included, to focus in on what is really important. We need to not be distracted by the million things vying for our attention. We want to make sure that our hearts are prepared to thank God for sending his Son the first time, and through faith be prepared for Him to come back when the fullness of time is fulfilled.


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Too Good To Be True

If it appears too good to be true, it probably is.

I was all excited for a purchase that I made about two weeks ago. It was a fold-up treadmill that I could put underneath my stand-up desk at work. With the time that I’m spending on my Masters, I was especially excited for the possibility of burning some extra calories and getting in some exercise while I’m working. It sounded so perfect–this treadmill was fairly small, moveable, and the price wasn’t too bad either.

But something wasn’t right. Beyond the initial confirmation e-mail, I wasn’t getting any follow-up e-mails telling me about shipping. I started doing some digging and found the site listed as a scam. These losers grab a video from a cool product on the internet, charge your credit card through a foreign bank and never deliver the merchandise. Getting wise to the scam I have now called my bank, had the charges removed, and had them issue me a new credit card so that I don’t get charged for further stuff. Aye, aye, aye, what a pain!


I’m not one to waste a good opportunity for an object lesson, so I’m going to turn this bad situation into a lesson. Class is now in session. This morning I’m going to use this scam to teach about false prophets and teachers, which is way more important than some fold-up treadmill anyway.

Jesus warned us in Matthew, chapter seven:

“Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.” (vs 15-19 ESV)


These false prophets don’t come “dressed” as wolves, but rather as something attractive. If they appeared as they really are, we wouldn’t be drawn to them. Instead, they come preaching what we want to hear, dressed in attractive clothes, all the time luring us into their false teachings.


I often hear people say that Christians aren’t supposed to judge. Yet, Jesus made it pretty clear that we are supposed to judge. We’re supposed to know these false prophets by their fruit. If we aren’t examining their fruit, how do we know if it’s bad? We can’t tell them by their “costume!” The apostle John also tells us to test the spirits.

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. (1 John 4:1-3a)

In Matthew 24, Jesus says, “many false prophets will arise and lead many astray,” (24:11) and that

“false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. See, I have told you beforehand. So, if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as the lightning comes from the east and shines as far as the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” (24:24-27)

This is serious folks! We won’t be able to say, “I was tricked. Please reverse the charges and give me a second chance.” We’re not just talking about our credit card number here, we’re talking about the salvation of our souls! There are scammers out there that want to cause us great harm. It’s not buyer beware, it’s Christian beware.

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My Frankenstein Fingers

I love to play guitar. Matter of fact, I have been playing guitar longer than I’ve known my wife, and it was actually one of the things that drew us together. It’s also something that is deeply ingrained in how I praise God, which is actually quite biblical if you look into the meaning of the Hebrew words “zamar” and “tehilla.” You may have noticed that several of my blog posts have been about playing guitar. One of those blog posts was about a time when I feared that I might lose the ability to play guitar as a result of falling off of a roof and breaking my left elbow, needing replacement surgery, and the following rehab.

Well, I’ve done it again. No, I haven’t fallen off of a roof, thank you very much. But a couple of weeks ago I cut two fingers while working on my bandsaw. After two hours of hemming and hawing, I finally decided to go to the doctor (insert my wife shaking her head at me here). It’s a good thing that I did. I ended up with about eight stitches in the one finger, three of them internal, and five stitches in the other finger. On top of that, somehow from the force, I broke the middle finger as well. Because of the break I also needed to be put on antibiotics so that I didn’t get an infection down in the bone. Aye aye aye!

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(sorry to all of those who hate to look at pictures like this)

I did this on a Saturday, which every time I’ve checked, comes right before Sunday. With rare exception, I’m playing guitar several times on a Sunday morning. The Sunday after the accident was not an exception. So on that Sunday morning, I first grabbed my bass and thought, “let’s see how this goes.” Let me tell you, there was no putting any pressure on my index finger. I did it exactly twice. The first time I thought, “don’t do that again, that hurt.” The second time was by accident and specifically reminded me of the first time. I remember starting to go for the third time but quickly stopped myself. My middle finger could take the pressure, with only mild pain. The problem with that finger is that it started to bleed. Between songs, I would dab the blood away with a Kleenex and then during the sermon, I went to my office and replaced the bandage.  After church service, I was up for Sunday School opening, so now I switched over to my six-string guitar. I tried to play this without my index finger, but it was just a plain no-go. From that point forward, we did Sunday School opening acapella.

This concerned me, but I needed to just give myself time and let my fingers heal. A week later I picked up the guitars again and again thought to myself, “let’s see how this goes.” The good news is that I can once again play my guitar. The bad news is that I have cut the nerve in my index finger, so when I play certain chords with my guitar there is a pain in that finger.  I’m told that nerves can regrow, but that it is very inefficient. I probably will be dealing with this pain for a long time, maybe the rest of my life.

Tie that all together with the Children’s Sermon that I gave that same Sunday and it’s had a deep impact on me. The text was Mark 12:41-44.

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (ESV)

During that same Children’s Sermon, I shared the story of two people that I know of who have given “all that they have” in worship. The first is a pastor friend of mine who was told by a doctor that if he kept on singing, he would lose his voice. Pastors kind of need their voices, so his solution was to whistle during the singing. Perfect! The other is the story of Michelle Cushatt. Due to cancer, she has had several surgeries to remove parts of her tongue. Along with that, the radiation she has needed has burnt her vocal cords. She shared the story of singing in church with her raspy voice and how painful it was. Like the widow, they are worshiping God with whatever they have. I don’t even want to compare myself to these two, or so many others who have given far more.

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I’m thankful that God didn’t take my guitar playing totally away from me. I remember one year on the Servant Event that I offered to Beryl Kern that we could make her greenhouse handicap accessible because I knew how much gardening meant to her. Her response was “no” because she had gone through the pain of giving it up once, and couldn’t bear to go through the pain of having to give it up again. Guitar playing would be on that level for me.

If there is one lesson from this story of the widow’s offering, it’s that God is not impressed with the size of the gift, but rather considers the heart of the giver. Our “two copper coins” might seem insignificant to us, but if they are all that we have, we are left with nothing left but trusting in God to provide what we need. That’s right where He wants us to be!



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Dead is Dead

Early one morning I was driving to work with the radio on KLOVE. A familiar song from their current playlist began.  Soft piano music,  over smooth synthesizer, led into a beautiful baritone male voice singing about broken lives and being driven to our knees. Then we get to the chorus and I start shaking my head and thinking, “how can someone even do that?” Let me explain by using an analogy.

Imagine you and I are sitting in your kitchen, talking, and sharing a cup of tea. All of a sudden I grab my chest and collapse on your kitchen floor from a massive heart attack. What would you do?

Would you stand over me and proclaim the chorus of this song, “tell your heart to beat again!” Would you say, “breathe in,” or “step into the light of grace.” If that’s what you did, I think the only light I’d be stepping into would be the light of heaven. No, I hope you would call 911, get an ambulance on the way, and then jump on my chest and start pumping out some CPR to the rhythm of “Stayin’ Alive.”


Paul makes this pretty darn clear:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them. (Ephesians 2:1-10 ESV, emphasis mine)

Luther, in his explanation of the third article of the Apostles Creed, said that “I believe that I cannot by my own reason or strength believe in Jesus Christ, my Lord.”

I know that every analogy breaks down at some point, but go back to the image of me dead on your kitchen floor. In that state I can’t tell myself to do anything, let alone if I could tell my heart to beat again, could I make it? No! But you could make it beat again by CPR, an EMT could get out the shocky paddles and make it beat again, or God could miraculously decide that it’s not my time after all and make it start beating again.


I know that life can beat us up and that we are driven to our knees. Sometimes other people’s sin has spilled over into our lives, sometimes we’ve added to our own misery by our own sin, and sometimes we are a victim of living in a fallen world. So what do we do when life beats us up? Let other people of faith bring life into our lives that we cannot manufacture ourselves, and even more than that, let God do what only he can do. God’s role is to be the source and provider, our role is to be needy and the receiver. “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change.” (James 1:17) ““Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, nor about your body, what you will put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?… But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matthew 6:25, 33) If we keep our roles straight, we’ll be much better off.

Sorry if you liked that song.

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Birthday Blessings

Kids love celebrating birthdays. They can’t hardly wait till their next one. Sometimes you’ll ask them how old they are and they’ll say, “four…and a half.” Although I haven’t yet had a birthday that bothers me, I’ve stopped counting the half years. I do, however, absolutely love that my birthday falls during the Sunday School year. It goes back to the kids loving to celebrate birthdays.

On Sunday mornings, during our Sunday School opening, we look over the calendar and see which child has a birthday that week. Well, this past Sunday it was my turn. We lit ALL the candles on the plastic birthday cake, they teased me about being older than dirt, Jody put a paper birthday crown on my head, everyone said our Sunday School blessing over me, and then I blew out the candles. It was a fun time!

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Two weeks ago, I wrote about celebrating my up-and-coming twin grandkids, so whether it’s pre-born babies or guys who have seen a few years, we celebrate life at all of its stages. I remember saying to my grandmother at her 89thbirthday party that “next year would be a big one.” Her response was so fantastic. She said, “at my age, they’re all big!” You were absolutely right grandma, they’re all big because every year we’re alive we’re continuing to celebrate God’s gift of life. The bible says that “The glory of young men is their strength, but the splendor of old men is their gray hair.” (Proverbs 20:29 ESV) Glory and splendor are both to be celebrated! And speaking of gray hair, it also says that “Gray hair is a crown of glory; it is gained in a righteous life.” (Proverbs 16:31)

Fifty-three, here we go!


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This week I started a new class for my online Masters. Suffice it to say that it was a little stressful and a busy week. Add to that the fact that it was a very emotional week (for reasons I won’t go into for now) and I got to Friday and thought to myself that I just wouldn’t do a blog post for this week. Sorry, especially to those that I know enjoy reading these every week.

Then I was driving home on Friday afternoon and “Control” came on the radio by Tenth Avenue North. I really enjoy this song and it moves me greatly. When I got home I listened to it again on Youtube and then also found this acoustic version.

As I sat there and listened to the song I wept, which was such a release of all of the pain and stress. From the outside nothing looks different, but allowing some grief in my life brings me some healing. My hat goes off to Tenth Avenue North for writing songs that can do that.

So to you, my friends, may you find that same healing. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go look up the chords to the song so that it can be part of my private Sabbath worship tomorrow. Peace.

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