Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Make up your mind and say what you mean

Have you ever met someone who always says something different than what they mean? Maybe it’s because they’re afraid of confrontation. Or maybe they’re not good at communicating. But either way you can never trust what they say because they never tell you what they mean.

I’m pretty passionate about communicating. That was my degree, but I think I cared a lot about it before I got my degree. I think 99.9% of problems in our lives can be avoided if we’d just talk to each other, but you’d be shocked to know how few people actually talk. Oh, people say things all the time. But there’s a big difference between talking and speaking.

Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Running for home base, Manhattan, KS

Today’s verse is Proverbs 14:3.

A fool’s proud talk becomes a rod that beats him,
but the words of the wise keep them safe.

I think there’s a fear among Christ-followers that being too direct about anything will make us come off as overbearing or unattractive. And there’s some truth to that. I know direct people who don’t think about how they sound or how they’ll be perceived, and most of the time they come off as loud or abrasive. And, honestly, in most instances they come off as ignorant—just people spouting off because they don’t know better.

That’s the last thing any Christ-follower should want. But the opposite of direct is just as unattractive.

Do you know wishy-washy Christ-followers? Those people who are sort of weak-kneed, who will agree to anything just so they don’t rock the boat.

Whether you’re talking about something out of the Bible that God says or just a common sense part of life in general, people appreciate directness. Not rudeness. But direct and rude aren’t the same. People just think they are because so many times direct people are just plain rude about it.

Say something is going on at work that you don’t agree with and somehow you end up in the middle (because you’re just blessed). You have a choice on how you’re going to handle it. If you’re a Christ-follower, you have a responsibility to stand up for what is right, but you also have a responsibility to speak the truth in love. There’s that direct-without-being-rude concept I mentioned above.

Or, you can sit back and nod and smile and be overall noncommittal. That’s easy. Seriously, it is, especially if you don’t like conflict. There’s nothing easier in the world than to sit back in your chair and not participate in the conversation at all.

And maybe in some circumstances, that’s the best way to handle it. But if there’s something going on that you know is wrong, don’t you feel like you need to step in and stop it? If that’s the case, how do you do it without being rude? Do you waver and quaver all over the place?

You can, but nobody’s going to listen to you.

It’s like going into a fast food restaurant and trying to order a meal without telling the order-taker what you want. Have you ever tried that? Try it. Go into a McDonald’s and order something without telling the person at the counter what you want. They’ll look at you like you’re crazy. Or they’ll lose patience with you. Or they’ll ignore you.

None of that is what you want. You have to be direct. You have to know what you want, and you have to be brave enough to just say it straight out, without being rude about it.

First, make up your mind. Know for sure what you’re talking about. If you’re weighing in on a situation that you don’t understand, leave the room. Or shut your mouth. If you don’t know enough about the topic to be discussing it, just be quiet and claim ignorance. Know enough to know when to keep your mouth shut.

Secondly, don’t beat around the bush. Just say it. Don’t use big words to make yourself sound smarter. Don’t use phrases to make yourself sound experienced. People respond better to short words used well than to long words and phrases used to inflate their speech. Most people can see right through inflated language.

Thirdly, be humble. Don’t sit there and act like you know everything. Don’t scoff at people or roll your eyes. Be respectful. Be real. Be open. Be honest. Be kind.

If you litter your words with phrases that don’t mean anything or jargon from your industry, those are big red flags that tell everyone you’re compensating for something.

So say what you mean. Be direct about it, but maintain your sense of respect and humility. Don’t waste their time or your time filling your speech with words that don’t matter or analogies that don’t make sense.

If you know what you’re talking about, if you’ve made up your mind, and if you speak clearly and concisely without trying to impress anyone, guess what happens? You’ll impress people. And you’ll become someone people know is worth listening to.

Prairie dog outside his hole at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Get on the same page

Communication in an organization is really important for a lot of different reasons, especially if you work for a company with multiple offices in a city or in a country. Communication is hard enough in the same office building, though. It’s ten times as hard when you have to get two or more remote offices to work together.

But if you don’t communicate with each other, you run the risk of losing track of what’s important to your organization. If you have two offices doing their own thing without a unifying force, they’ll both end up twisting off in their own directions. Or the opposite will happen. They’ll devote resources to doing the same projects. So you’ll have two people working on the same project at the same time, wasting their energy and focus.

Communicating has never been easy, and it won’t ever be easy. Whenever you get two people in a room, they’ll struggle with getting their points across. That’s just human nature. But if you want to accomplish something, you can’t do it without communicating. Otherwise you’ll end up doubling someone else’s work—or worse, you’ll find out that you’ve been going the wrong direction altogether.

Today’s verses are Galatians 2:1-2

Prairie dog outside his hole at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Prairie dog outside his hole at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Wichita, KS

Then fourteen years later I went back to Jerusalem again, this time with Barnabas; and Titus came along, too. I went there because God revealed to me that I should go. While I was there I met privately with those considered to be leaders of the church and shared with them the message I had been preaching to the Gentiles. I wanted to make sure that we were in agreement, for fear that all my efforts had been wasted and I was running the race for nothing.

Paul knew it was important to be on the same page as the leaders of the early Church. I can’t imagine how intimidating it had to be for him to approach the leaders of the Church in Jerusalem (read that: the original disciples!) to make sure the message he was preaching was the right one.

But he knew—whether through common sense or God’s revelation—that he couldn’t just keep on going without making sure what he was saying matched what the Church was saying.

So if Paul realizes that, why don’t we? Have you ever noticed in our smartphone-savvy, information-at-your-fingertips, data-plan-overload society that we seem to communicate with each other less and less? And I don’t mean just texting. I don’t mean just firing off an email. I mean communicating. I mean talking to each other, using real words.

And the Church isn’t immune. I think churches struggle the most with communication issues because that’s the first place Satan loves to attack. If he can break down our communication, he can destroy relationships.

We have to get on the same page. We have to figure out a way to really talk to each other, the way people used to, because if we don’t, we’re all going to end up in a rat’s nest of miscommunications, well-intentioned or not.

I honestly believe many churches break up because of miscommunications or because of a lack of communication. I believe many marriages and friendships and families are torn apart because people just don’t talk to each other.

Communication is everything. It’s intimidating, yes. Maybe even terrifying, if you’re an introvert like me. But if every relationship’s foundation starts with love, communication is the mortar that holds the walls together. Without it, everything falls apart, no matter how much you might love each other.

Communication is the difference between a building with walls and a building that’s just a foundation.

So don’t let your fear (which comes from Satan) keep you from talking to people about what you believe. Don’t let your pride (which comes from Satan) keep you from listening to people who care about you.

God put us in each other’s lives to help each other, so let’s start helping each other. Let’s start building some walls instead of tearing them down. Let’s start working together instead of against each other.

If some of us are on the wrong track, gently help them get back to the right road. And if there are hurt feelings and damaged relationships, let’s just remember that nobody’s perfect and we all need a little grace.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Dealing with anger before it can control you

I hate misunderstandings, don’t you? I really think most of the problems between people can be solved by reducing misunderstandings because so many times people hurt each other and don’t realize it. And then, the person who gets hurt is afraid to speak up and say anything about it, so the situation never changes. And it just continues in one vicious cycle until both sides end up bitter and resentful.

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Sunset at Safe Haven Farm, Haven, KS

Today’s verses are Ephesians 4:26-27.

And “don’t sin by letting anger control you.” Don’t let the sun go down while you are still angry, for anger gives a foothold to the devil.

Anger is one of those strange emotions that can be both positive or negative depending on how you react to it. It isn’t a bad emotion just by virtue of what it is. It’s an emotion that everyone feels or will feel at some point in their life. We just have to decide now (when we’re not angry) how we’re going to handle it when it does come up, and this passage is a good thought to keep in mind.

Anger can come on quickly, and if you’re not prepared for it, you’ll react to it by lashing out and hurting others around you. Maybe you want to do that, and maybe the people around you deserve it, but that’s not how a Christ-follower is supposed to behave. Make the decision now to not let anger control you. When you feel it, recognize it and take steps to manage it. Don’t hide it. Don’t deny it. Deal with it. Because the longer you sit on it, the worse it will get.

That’s why I think this advice is really good. Don’t end the day still angry. And what I think is interesting is that the word angry has some other meanings, according to the Amplified Version. It means anger or fury, but it also means indignation or exasperation. So this isn’t just talking about anger because you’ve been mistreated. It also means that you shouldn’t end the day if you’ve still got frustrations bottled up inside you.

Why? Well, it says why. The longer you sit and stew on those negative emotions, the more opportunity you give Satan in your life. He’s always looking for a way in, and focusing on those negative emotions opens the door just a crack. Enough for him to reach in and poke at your life.

That’s the last thing you need. Life has enough trouble on its own without inviting trouble from our enemy!

So the next time you’re angry or frustrated, step back and calm down. Think about it, yes, but don’t think too long. Granted, it does depend on the situation.

I think this is interesting, and I’m not sure if I understand it entirely. But the part of this verse that says, “t sin by letting anger control you,” is actually pulled from the Old Testament.

Psalm 4:4

Don’t sin by letting anger control you.
    Think about it overnight and remain silent.

My first thought when I read that was shock because that looks like a contradiction. The Old Testament says think about your anger overnight. The New Testament says deal with your anger before the sun goes down. What?

And I don’t know if this is right or not, but I looked at who wrote each of these passages. Paul wrote Ephesians. David wrote Psalm 4. (Both of them were writing under the inspiration of God, of course.) Any of you who know the Bible may already know where I’m going.

The personality differences between Paul and David are massive. They’re like opposite sides of the same coin. Paul was a scholar, an educated man, polite and appropriate and respected. David was a shepherd. Yes, he was a king, but he was also a warrior and an artist. Paul and David were both passionate in different ways.

For Paul’s personality, it was probably better to deal with his anger and frustration immediately after he recognized it. For David, if he’d tried to deal with his anger immediately, he’d probably make things worse because he hadn’t gotten over it himself yet. Either way, both means of dealing with frustration prevent anger from calling the shots.

The key is to recognize when you’re getting angry or frustrated, and whether you decide to deal with it immediately or let some time pass so you can cool off doesn’t matter. Notice the Psalm says think about it overnight, so don’t think about it longer than that. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to address.

But you have to do it.

Your relationships are worth it. Your own sanity is worth it. Don’t hold on to anger or frustration. Deal with it. Work through it. Talk about it with the person who hurt you, and you’ll probably discover that they didn’t mean to. Or you’ll discover that you hurt them to start off with. That’s how human relationships work, friends. We’re all screwed up.

So let’s cut each other a break. Value your relationships enough to talk about the misunderstandings. And even if you don’t sort everything out, at least you will know where your own heart stands and so will they.

Peace of mind is something you can’t buy, and when your mind and heart are at peace, Satan can’t get in.

Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

Words should be a gift

I love words. They’re my favorite topic of study, my favorite tools to use, my favorite everything. And it doesn’t matter what language either. Words are amazing no matter what language you speak. And one of the most awesome aspect of words is unfortunately also their most dangerous; Words have power.

At least, words have the power we give them. You’ve heard people say that words have weight, that words can cut, that words can bring life. It’s true. The things we choose to say will either help or hurt, and as Christ followers we need to be able to keep a hold of our mouths.

The cause of my foul language, Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

The cause of my foul language, Sheep at the Sedgwick County Zoo, Hutchinson, KS

Today’s verse is Ephesians 4:29.

Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.

When I was little, I thought this verse was talking about cursing. And I’m sure that cursing is one of those usages of words that isn’t really necessary, but I have realized something as I’ve worked with many international offices and people from other countries. You do realize that curse words aren’t the same from culture to culture, right? Words that are horribly offensive in American culture are just normal words elsewhere and vice versa. So you can’t point fingers at a handful of words and call them foul. No. You have to know what those words mean and understand their usage.

Some of the most hurtful words in our language aren’t curses. They are words used to tear other people down. They are negative words spoken by negative or insecure people in order to make themselves feel better at the expense of others around them. You can know someone who never curses but who is still foul and abusive because of the way they use their “good words” to hurt people.

All I’m saying is that we shouldn’t point fingers at curse words while we alter the heart of other words in order to damage people.

God gave us words so that we could be a blessing to people. Words are supposed to be a gift we give to others. Too often we twist them around and turn them into something they were never intended to be. People get hurt. Friendships get broken. Marriages are destroyed. Hearts are scarred. And that’s not why God gave us language.

So think about what you say before you say it. Check your attitude before you speak. Ask yourself if what you’re about to say will help someone or hurt someone? Consider what you’re about to say from every angle and weigh the consequences, because once you say it, you can’t take it back. Oh, yes, you can apologize for it, but that isn’t as good as not saying it to begin with.

Poppy at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Living a life that defies hatred

How do you answer people who ask you what you believe? How do you talk to people in general? It’s something worth thinking about because we communicate so much through tone and body language. Maybe I’m just overly sensitive to it, but I think non-verbal communication makes up more than half of how people actually talk to each other.

I read body language before I listen to what people say. Body language often will tell you far more about a person than what is coming out of their mouth. So if a person is communicating anger or unpleasantness with their body language, even if they’re saying nice things, I’m not going to believe they really mean it. And since our culture has devolved into one big chat room, it’s no wonder we are overwhelmed with miscommunications.

We live in an offensive world and an offensive culture. It seems that just about everyone wants to make everybody else angry about something, whether it’s their past mistakes or their current beliefs, religious or political. And it’s tempting to feel like we need to offend others in self-defense. But is that the way to communicate with people? Is that really the way we’re supposed to handle our relationships?

Poppy at Glen Eyrie - Colorado Springs, CO

Poppy at Glen Eyrie – Colorado Springs, CO

Today’s verses are 1 Peter 3:15-16.

Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ.

As Christians, we have a responsibility to know what we believe. So when people ask us, we can explain. It’s no less than knowing the policies of your workplace or the rules of your house. But there’s something about following Jesus that really makes people angry.

I attended a writing workshop in June, which is actually where I got a lot of the photography I use on this blog. It’s a place called Glen Eyrie, located in Colorado Springs. One of the speakers made a point to talk about the different eras of how the world has reacted to Christ.

Forty years ago, we were still something of a Christian nation, where even if people didn’t agree with those of us who follow Christ, we were still treated with some amount of respect. But that era changed into an era of Post-Christian thought, where everyone was okay. It was the whole “I’m okay; you’re okay” sort of concept, where everyone has a truth and that truth is okay. Whether that concept is true or not is a different discussion, but that era has slowly come and gone, now replaced with the era we live in today. Anti-Christian. The world we live in is anti-Christ. People are more hostile and more virulently opposed to believers than ever before, and I have never experienced the outpouring of hatred against believers like I have seen in the last year or so.

Yes, it’s a sign of the times, but part of me is curious as to how we got here. And I can’t help but ask, how much of it is our own faults? How much of the treatment Christians now endure has come about because of our reaction to the world? I’m not saying hatred against Christians (or hatred against anyone for that matter) is justified, but I have known many believers who treated non-believers with disdain and contempt. And there’s only so much disdain and contempt anyone can take before they snap.

I’m thinking of a particular church in Topeka, KS, where the congregation protests at soldier funerals with signs that say terrible and untrue things. And if that is the standard by which all Christians are judged, then it’s no wonder the world hates us.

Please understand. I’m really addressing Christians in America at this point. Christians in other nations are a different story. Christians in other nations are truly suffering without cause, truly being persecuted for their faith. American Christians don’t know the meaning of persecution. We sure think we do, but we don’t.

Even if we are treated harshly, even if people say horrible things about us and disrespect us, does that give us a reason to treat them the same way? Absolutely not. No matter what people do to us, we need to love them. We are commanded to love them, commanded to forgive them. Stooping to the level of name calling and back biting only puts us on their level, and if you do that, how can you be different?

Yes, Scripture says that the world will hate us. They hated Christ, so it shouldn’t surprise us that the world would hate us too. I get that. I know that. But we don’t have to give them a  reason. We need to live a life that is above reproach. We need to have relationships that are encouraging and uplifting. We need to say things that are good and kind and true, no matter what people say to us. We need to keep our pride and our tempers in check, and we need to remember what’s important: it’s not about us.

So if somebody asks you what you believe, be able to tell them. And when they get angry at you, speak kindly to them. Don’t give them any ammunition to fight you with. Don’t give them a reason to hate you. And if they’re the sort of person who will hate you in spite of the fact that you have truly done nothing wrong, in spite of logic and reason and kindness, then you can address them and yourself with a clear conscience.

But be real. Most people aren’t like that. And if they are, they’re that way for a reason. Probably because a Christian mistreated them in their past. Maybe you can be the bridge. Maybe you can be the one who stands in the gap. Maybe you can be the Christian who changes their mind. Maybe you can be the one who introduces them to the real Jesus, not just the label of a religious system.

Be real. Be kind. Be true. And love people no matter what they do to you. That will make you different. And even as people try to hate you, they’ll run out of reasons.