How did this become the norm?

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By Brian Sharpe

My wife and I have norms in our marriage, parenting, and extended-family lives. We all have norms. These norms sometimes collide when we first get married or we take on roommates or even when dating someone.

Tomina and I started one norm early in our marriage because it was needed, but it hinders us now—our sleeping habits. When Tomina and I were first married, I was still in school. She worked full-time; I was a full-time student and worked part-time at a church. Tomina was as a waitress at Applebee’s. She would work from 3 p.m. until closing many nights of the week. I generally had classes in the morning and then worked at the church as needed.

When Tomina and I were first home from our honeymoon, she made the statement, “We will go to bed at the same time!” I didn’t question this statement. In her family, her parents went to bed at different times, and she wanted to change that norm. So, we agreed to go to bed at the same time. This was a great idea. The problem was, she would get home at midnight to 2:00 a.m. every night she worked. This meant that I was staying up until then to wait for her to come home. Then we would catch up on the day and go to bed. I would then get up a couple hours later and go to school. I would take naps, but it started a norm in our marriage. We were both naturally night people, but that was further solidified by our schedule. This is a norm that I have had a hard time breaking, even now that I am 40.

We all have norms. Every relationship has them. Unfortunately, they can be seen as ruts. Over the years, Tomina and I have had hard conversations about the norms in our marriage. We have talked a lot about how to love each other well. It is easy to settle into patterns and then coast on autopilot. The problem with this is that it can turn into complacency, and it can ultimately lead to a lack of intentionality. Now, this isn’t the intention of norms, but it is often the outcome.

This idea of norms affects even our relationship with God. A norm may be that when I am scared or in trouble, I run to God. That isn’t a bad norm, unless that’s the only time you run to God.

A norm could be that I go to church every week. Again, this isn’t a bad thing, as long as we understand why we go to church. We go to church to connect with God and other believers for mutual encouragement and growth. The book of Hebrews says we go to spur one another on to love and good deeds.

A norm may be that we read our Bible when we think about it or when we schedule it. This is a good norm, as long as it makes it on the schedule. A norm that we don’t want to talk about is the norm of not spending time with God in the studying his Word. That’s the downside of norms: we may create a norm in which God is only part of our lives when we are at church or when we are around people of faith, but not in our everyday life. This is a huge problem, because if we love God and are followers of God, we will spend time with God in some fashion or another in our everyday lives. We need to make sure that being with God and cultivating our relationship with Him is a norm in our life.

The other part of this is, if we have kids or are speaking into kids’ lives, we need to help them know the “why” of what we are doing to cultivate our relationship with God. First-generation Christians are excited to get to know God. Second-generation Christians get to hear the stories of what God has done with the first-generation Christian. But for third-generation Christians, being a Christian is normal to them, so they lose sight of why we do things, and in forgetting the reason, the practices become less important.

We need to stop and take inventory of the norms in our life. Our character qualities sometimes become the norm; for example, I am an angry or stubborn person. We need to evaluate these norms and make sure that we are reflecting Jesus in our marriages, parenting, friendships, and work. We need to make sure we are passing down reasoning for our norms for future generations to understand them.

What are the norms in your life? Are they what you want them to be? Are they a reflection of who Christ is calling us to be?

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The Right Question at the Right Time

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question-markBy Brian Sharpe

Have you ever been in a situation as a parent, boss, coworker, or friend where you didn’t know what to say or do when giving advice? You knew what the person should do, but you were sure they weren’t going to do what you thought they should. As a parent, as a friend, as a leader, and as a mentor, I have been in that situation so many times. My modus operandi is to just tell people what to do. The problem is, that usually ends up not going the way I think it should go.

I don’t know if you are like me, but I often think that if the world just did things the way I think they should be done, it would be a better, more functional place. I know that is arrogant, and most likely not true, but it is a thought I have.

I was recently in a situation where I was in conflict with someone that I respect. We both had different ideas of how something should be done. During this meeting, it was obvious that we weren’t seeing eye to eye. Martin was at this meeting, and he brought me and this man together to talk through and figure out what was going on. Before this meeting, I wanted to spend some time alone in prayer, seeking God and asking for understanding on why this other leader and I weren’t seeing eye to eye. As I prayed, I wasn’t getting any clarity to what was going on in this relationship. I could understand where I was coming from, and I thought I understood where the other man was coming from … but boy, was I wrong!!!

While praying, I called a mentor of mine, Jim. We usually meet once a month, but I needed his advice and his outside perspective. While on the phone with Jim, I explained the situation. I explained the reason for the meeting. Jim’s first response wasn’t to tell me what he thought I should do. His first response was to empathize, then to asking questions. He has a framework that he works though in situations like this, and the first thing is seeking to understand by asking questions. As he asked questions, he better understood the situation.

At this point, if I were Jim, I would have moved into telling me what to do. Instead, he started asking more questions about why I was responding the way I was. By the end of our conversation, it was clear to me all the ways I needed to own my improper leadership. I thought I knew what was going on, but I was blinded by my own biases. Jim was not; he was able to help me understand the blind spots in my life. He did this by asking questions, not by making statements.

I really am learning that this is the best way to help people. We need to become master question-askers. As a pastor, I see this. As a parent, I see this. As a husband, I see this. How often could an argument (I mean if Tomina and I argued . . . which of course we never do! JK) have been stopped if I would had asked a good question instead of making a statement? Asking good questions means you are seeking to understand, not make a point. This takes humility and intentionality. But in the end, I think it leads us down the path we want to go down, and that is to help others.

I have seen where someone asking good questions has helped me. I have seen where good questions have helped others. Leading through questions is hard, but worth the time it takes. In the future, when people are seeking your help or you are trying to help a family member or a friend, stop, think, and ask yourself what question needs to be asked, instead of what statement needs to be made.

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Two Stories

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By Brian Sharpe

The older I get, the more I think in terms of story. All of us have a story. In some ways, we have two stories: we have our story and we have God’s story. I think the people with the most integrity understand how those stories coalesce and work together. Let me unpack this for you.

I am the youngest of four, and that shapes my story. My dad was a pastor, and that shapes my story. I moved when I was 16 to a state where I knew no one and had to start over in life, which shapes my story. I have had some wins and I have had some losses, and that shapes my story.

Every experience I have shapes how I look at life. This is normal and natural. The problem comes when the experiences that I have in life trump what God says is true. Over the years, I have had some experiences in my life that were so painful that I could have let them trump what God says. I have had instances in my life where I have made the wrong choice and consequently felt unloved. I could sit there and believe that I am unloved. I could listen to my experience and let that shape how I feel and ultimately react. Or I can trust what I know to be true from Scripture. God says that I am deeply loved, that His love for me is not based on what I do, but is based on Him and what He has chosen to do.

We have all had experiences that were not of our choosing. It could be that we were wronged severely, or it could be that, because we live in a fallen world, death came too early for a loved one. It could be because of a divorce or an abusive situation. All these situations are not what we would have chosen, but they happened. All these situations shape our stories. The question is, are we allowing these negative events in our lives to control the main narrative of our story? We cannot change these events, but we can limit the control these events exercise in our story by allowing God’s narrative to shape and to be on the forefront of our story, not in the background.

I see way too many people who allow real circumstances, feelings, and consequences to have too much control. Instead, I want Jesus and what He says to take control. He can forgive the past, and so can I. He can heal a wounded heart, so I need to trust Him in that. He can take my mistakes and the things done to me to bring glory and honor to His name. We need to receive what Jesus is giving us. We need to receive that He is making us whole, that He can make us whole in this broken, messed-up world. We have two stories, and my prayer is that we yield to God’s story and His narrative and let His narrative shape us more than our own. It is hard, but it is so worth it!

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Purpose in Paper Boats

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By Nate Champneys

My five-year-old and I went down to the creek with some paper to make paper boats. In my mind I could just picture how awesome it would be to let those things go sailing down the creek. So we get down there and I fold the first one and I let it go down the creek. Kaelen was thrilled. But his excitement quickly faded into distress as the boat moved away. He waded after the boat and grabbed it.

“Kaelen, you have to let it go down the creek.” I said.

“No, I want it,” he said.

“Trust me, Kaelen. Let’s just see what happens.”

Frustrated, he slowly let it go. It went about 20 feet and got caught on a log. I waded over to it and Kaelen asked me for it. But I said, “No, dude, you have to let it go.” And I let it go and it sailed down the creek. By this point Kaelen is almost in tears and says, “But Daddy, I really want to keep the boats.”

I head back up the creek to where the stack of paper is sitting, frustrated because my beautiful plan of sailing boats down the creek with my son is not playing out the way I intended it to. But I suddenly think to myself, “Why am I so bothered by this? Who really cares if the boats go all the way down the creek or not? Isn’t the point of being here to have some quality time with my son? Instead I am driving him to tears.” Here I am, focused so hard on the end result of the boats, that I’ve forgotten that the goal of this outing was to have a date with my son. So I told Kaelen, “Okay buddy, I’m sorry. You can keep the boats.” The rest of the afternoon, I would make a boat and he would let it go ten feet or so, pick it up, and add it to his collection on the beach. (With the exception of a couple he let me send down the creek for my own enjoyment. 🙂 ) We came home with an armful of soggy paper boats, and my son was never more thrilled.

As I think about that day, I understand my mistake. I was focusing on what I viewed to be the end result: floating boats. I forgot about the process. I got focused on the “doing” and lost track of the “being,” the “doing” of sailing boats instead of the “being” of being a father to my son. This way of thinking is visible throughout my life and is something I fight daily. In another blog post I wrote about how God’s purposes are wrapped up inside the process of life. We tend to view things as “the end justifies the means” and focus on doing whatever we have to in order to accomplish a specific project. But from God’s perspective, I think that often the means ARE the end.

Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Sometimes we hear this verse and we think, “See, God is going to make everything I do prosper.” But that is not what this verse says, nor is it what the surrounding verses are trying to communicate. God is about His purposes. Not ours. In verse 35 Paul asks the question, “Does it mean He no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?” This question implies that we will face these things. We may face trouble. We may face hunger or destitution. We may face persecution. How is that things working together for good? Well, according to my purposes, it isn’t. But it is good because all those bad things work together to accomplish the good thing: His purpose.

God is at work in us, with purposes all throughout the process of life, with the ultimate destination being greater than our immediate happiness, but more so, our holiness. Our job is not focus on the fact that we haven’t arrived at this destination but to be with him in the process, and trust him with it, knowing that we are deeply loved and leave the results up to Him.

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The Important “L”

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By Brian Sharpe

This past weekend we went on a senior high retreat to the Parsons’ cabin. The Parsons’ cabin has become a yearly staple in our student ministry calendar. It is a small, simple cabin that God has used over the past thirteen years to do some great work in me and the students that have attended those retreats. This past weekend was no exception — God was at work. He prepared a lesson in me that was just right for the group we had going. Our topic of conversation was legalism, licentiousness, and liberty.

As someone who grew up in the church, legalism is a pitfall I can fall into. Legalism is where we create rules that God doesn’t hold us to and we expect others to adhere to those rules. If others don’t hold to those rules, then we judge them. That’s what the Pharisees did in Scripture. They would create laws that they expected everyone to follow, and if someone didn’t follow them, they were less spiritual than they should be.

Licentiousness is where we create a moral law for ourselves apart from God, and we live by it. There is no expectation of others except, as long as they allow us to live as we want. This is a huge problem in our culture today. We become god and set our own standards. As believers, we have to pay careful attention to make sure this doesn’t sink into our way of life. It is easy to fall into, but we have to fight the urge to be king over our life.

Legalism and licentiousness are two ends to the spectrum, and both lead to bondage. Legalism sets up rules for everyone, licentiousness sets up rules for self and no one else. Legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain types of music. Licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, because I want to. Legalism says it is a sin to date. Licentiousness says that I can date whomever I want, when I want. Legalism says that everyone should only eat certain foods. Licentiousness says I can eat whatever I want, it doesn’t hurt anyone else.

Then there is liberty. Liberty is freedom. We understand that because of the country we live in. Yet how I define liberty as a believer is understanding the freedom we have in Christ, but living out of love and not our rights. Liberty filters every decision through a screen of, “How will what I am doing bring glory and honor to Christ?” Its focus is on loving God and loving others. Its focus in not on rules or rights. When legalism says it is a sin to listen to certain music and licentiousness says I can listen to whatever I want, it doesn’t affect me. Liberty says, “How does this music bring glory and honor to Christ?”

This is the conversation we had last weekend with high school students. It was a fun conversation, but also led to some great dialogue and self-reflection. How am I living? Am I living in liberty, where I seek to live out of love, or am I being legalistic or licentious? The hard thing about this question is that it is not a one-time thought, but it’s a constant evaluation of every decision. As a passionate follower of Christ, I need to seek to live out of liberty. I need to seek to live out of love, asking the question, “How is what I am doing bringing glory and honor to Jesus?” It’s what our students were challenged with last weekend, and it’s what I am challenged with every day.

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God Still Speaks … Through Laminate Flooring

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By Nate Champneys

“Dad, I want to bring in the flooring,” my 5-year-old son Kaelen asked me for the tenth time today. My wife and I are living in a fixer-upper duplex we bought a few months ago. I bought some flooring a couple days ago for my kitchen, and it’s still sitting in my minivan. I have not had the time or the drive to move it inside. My son, it seems, has both of these. This time I finally give in and we head outside and begin unloading the 20+ boxes in the van. I open the door and grab three boxes. The boxes are about four feet long and weigh about fifteen pounds each. My son walks up and grabs a single box and muscles it out of the van with all his might. He nearly falls over as he struggles to carry the awkward package by himself. I walk my three boxes into the house and return to see that my son has only made it a few feet farther and is now dragging his box.

I am so tempted to let him continue to struggle while I finish quickly unloading the van, but I pause. My son has been so excited to unload this flooring; I can’t possibly rob him of that. So, almost annoyed, I ask him, “Kaelen, do you want to get one side while Daddy gets the other side?” He grins from ear to ear and says one word: “Yeah.” So, box by box, we carry the flooring inside the house, him on one end and me on the other. He is so happy to be doing this with me, but I can’t help but think of how I could complete this whole task myself in one-tenth the time it is taking us to complete it together.

All of a sudden, a huge “ah-ha” moment hits me like a ton of bricks (or laminate!). A few weeks earlier I had been thinking about how strange it is that God uses people like me to accomplish His purposes. It really isn’t very efficient. Really, when you look at the Church in general, we are not very efficient. The disciples were given one command when Jesus left them: Go, and make disciples. It has occurred to me that the church really is not efficient at this task. While I had been thinking about this I had a conversation with God. “God, why do you do it this way? It sure seems like you could do a much better job without using broken humanity.”

So, as I am moving this flooring with my son, God turns on the lights of understanding. I get the answer to my question: Because He is not only about the end result. Don’t get me wrong, He ALWAYS accomplishes His end goal, but, at the same time, he has purposes wrapped up inside the process itself. Yes, I could finish the task of unloading the flooring ten times faster if I just excluded my son. But, at the same time, I would not be allowing my son the joy of helping. I really don’t need my son’s help; but that’s not the point. God does not need us to accomplish his purposes. He simply doesn’t. He could accomplish the task one bazillion times faster and better all by Himself. He is God, and we are not. But that is not the point. It really is His joy to include us in HIS work and, in the process, our sanctification is also part of that work accomplished.

“For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” (Ephesians 2:10, ESV)

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