Category Archives: Encouraging Words From Dick Koehneke

Integrity, Excellence and Peace

By Dick Koehneke

Those are the three core values of a strong Christian ministry I know.  I’d like to unpack each of those words.  I invite you to do the same as they relate to your life and work. 

Integrity

Someone has said, “Honesty is when your words match your deeds.  Integrity is when your deeds match your words.”  Here are some “integrity assessment” questions I might ask myself:  Do I just talk a good game, or am I living it?  If I say I’m fair, am I consistent in my dealings with other people, or do I favor some over others because of what they can do for me?  If I say I’m honest, will I speak the truth to someone who needs to hear it but may not want to hear it?  If I say I’m willing to listen, will I keep listening and asking questions even when someone is saying something that really annoys me?  

Excellence

In my view, excellence is doing the very best you can with what you have at the time.  Excellence is not about comparing or competing; it’s about being your very best self on that day.  It’s good to expect excellence from yourself; it’s totally unrealistic to expect perfection.  As Romans 12:3 says, “Do not think more highly of yourself than you ought to think, but think of yourself with sober judgment.”  Don’t get down on yourself if your best isn’t as good as somebody else’s best.  And don’t look down on someone who’s doing his or her best but is not measuring up to your performance.        

Peace

I define relational strife in the church as an autoimmune disease in the body of Christ; it’s the body fighting itself.  Strife weakens the body.  It can lead to the body’s self-destruction.  That’s why so much of the Bible, especially the New Testament, has to do with God-pleasing relationships.  How do we keep the peace among believers in Christ?  God’s Word tells us to be “eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (Ephesians 4:3).  What does that “eagerness” look like?  I wrote something for this publication nearly eight years ago that I want to share with you again.  Here it is. 

In Matthew 18:15 Jesus tells us to go to a person we feel has done us wrong in some way. We need to remember that God’s goal is reconciled relationships, not the victory of one person over another. The goal is not to prove yourself right but to heal and restore the relationship.

What makes a great church? I agree with the person who said, “Trouble and struggle.” But that is true only if churches and Christians handle trouble and struggle God’s way. How do we do that? How do we approach the person we feel has wronged us? How do we go to that person?

Here is “the way to go”: Go promptly, go personally, go privately, go positively, go patiently. That’s the way to go!

First, go promptly. Don’t delay unless it’s to pray or to seek Godly confidential counsel.

Second, go personally. Don’t send an email or a text message. You need to see the other person so that each of you can see each other’s body language and facial expression.

Third, go privately. Don’t do this in front of an audience. Find the time and place that works best for the other person. Remember that your motive is Christ-like love:  total commitment to the total well-being of that other person. Any other motive is not pleasing to God.

Fourth, go positively. Go for the right reason. Don’t go to ventilate; that’s not love. If you have to ventilate, find another way to do it. Go positively: not to prove a point but to restore the relationship; not to win a victory but to reclaim unity.

Fifth, go patiently. It may take more than one conversation. You may need to “go” frequently so that true reconciliation can take place. 

By the way, when you go you may find out that the other person has no clue he or she has done something wrong.  The person may have acted in ignorance or simple thoughtlessness, as we all do on occasion. 

You may discover that you have some confessing and repenting to do in the relationship with that person.  If that happens it will be a good exercise for you in Christian honesty and humility.

Expect God to do great things. You are acting in faith and obedience. You are doing what God is blessing, so go! 

Church Worker Wellness

By Dick Koehneke

The leadership of  The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod is reaching out to church workers and their spouses to find out what kind of help they need most.  In 2016 the synodical convention passed five resolutions to address worker wellness.  A large survey was conducted in 2017 among ordained and commissioned ministers and their spouses.  Results of the survey were published in 2018.

There is good news to report.  Church workers overwhelmingly (85%) said that they are satisfied in their current call.  Some 75% say that their passion for ministry has increased since they started in their current call, and 88% say that their gifts and abilities are well suited for their responsibilities.  But the survey responses revealed some signs of difficulty.    

Earlier this year 45 online focus groups involving 380 workers discussed their most pressing needs.  The signs of difficulty that appeared in the survey were expressed more fully in the focus groups.  These groups included commissioned and ordained ministers, international missionaries, and spouses. 

Nine key needs were expressed repeatedly in the focus groups

  1. A change in the culture of Synod

We need to foster a culture of cooperation and support, not competing and comparing.  Workers should be able to admit weaknesses and ask for help without feeling ashamed for doing so. 

  1. Care provided at the local level

There is a need for care and support that is easily accessible, whether that’s from fellow workers or professional providers.  Workers need someone who walks alongside and understands.

  1. Relationships more than programs

Programs come and go, but relationships endure.  Some programs do address relational needs (for example, DOXOLOGY, PALS for new pastors, Grace Place, and the offerings of Concordia Plan Services) and they are appreciated. 

  1. Non-reporting caregivers

Workers need to know that their ministry won’t be jeopardized if they admit a need.  They suggested the idea of a “worker chaplain” who discusses issues with them without reporting to the district president.

  1. Recognition and connection

Church work can be a very lonely calling.  Spouses of church workers may feel even lonelier than the worker does.  Friendships can be difficult to develop.  Commissioned workers often feel that they are less appreciated and recognized than the pastors are.

  1. Healthy churches, schools, and ministries

A worker’s well-being affects the health of the ministry he or she is serving, and the health of the ministry affects the well-being of the worker.  Sometimes there are unrealistic expectations and a tendency to blame the workers for the problems of the church, school, or other ministry.

  1. Communication, awareness, and advocacy

The members of the congregation – certainly the lay leaders – need to be aware of the needs of their workers and be equipped with resources to help address those needs.  The workers’ self-care needs to be encouraged and supported if it is to be durable and effective. 

  1. Financial assistance

Many workers are in mathematically impossible situations, and they are not able to change those situations themselves.  In most cases they cannot “take on more hours” or get a second job.  As the costs of health care continue to rise and workers pay more and more of those costs, the situation worsens.  Student debt intensifies the problem.   

  1. Be reminded of their identity in Christ

Because they are so dedicated and committed, many workers equate their worth with their work.  They need regular time away from their work in order to be refreshed and renewed.  They need to be reminded that they are precious to God not because of their performance but because of God’s love, grace and forgiveness in Christ.  This is a message that they gladly share with others but sometimes do not hear for themselves.

Here are my personal observations

I recently attended a three-day meeting of the Ministerial Care Coalition of The Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod.  This group is made up of representatives from the districts of the LC-MS.  We discussed all nine of the concerns expressed above.  We learned or were reminded that many good things are happening in districts and synod.  Many good ideas were expressed for future action at the levels of synod, districts, and local congregations – often in conjunction and cooperation with one another.

I want to express deep appreciation for Concordia Plan Services and the Office of National Mission of the LC-MS.  Both groups were represented at the conference by people in leadership.  There is a strong commitment to moving forward together in support of the well-being of our workers. 

Our workers are doing great and important work in the service of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  We’re in this together.  When the Body of Christ is healthy, amazing things happen as God works through His people.  For good reasons, I am thankful.  For good reasons, I am hopeful.         

P.S.  Check out the new church worker wellness web page on the LC-MS website.  I think you’ll like what you see: www.lcms.org/wellness

What Was I Thinking?

By Dick Koehneke

Recently I wrote about the subject of “navigating difficult conversations” using some insights from Sheila Heen, the co-author of the book Difficult Conversations.  She says, “In difficult conversations we need to become aware of our own internal voice.” 

That comment is true in any conversation.  When we’re not aware of what’s going on inside our heads, a conversation can turn into a confrontation.  When that happens, and when we reflect on the resulting communication meltdown, we might ask ourselves, “What was I thinking?” 

Let’s think about our thoughts before we have the next conversation.  Call it preventive reflection.  Maybe being aware of our thoughts ahead of time will help the conversation stay on a healthy track.  I can’t control the other person’s thoughts, but I’m supposed to be able to manage my own. 

Here are five thoughts that can make any conversation not only difficult, but painful.  They don’t come out of our mouths, but if they’re in our heads, that’s enough to cause problems.  

  1. “I’m here to fix you.”

When we see the other person as a repair project, we’re in trouble.  First of all, we probably don’t know what their problems are.  We might think we do, but as the saying goes, “When your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.”  Second, we can’t fix someone else’s problems; the best we can do is provide resources and support.  Third, that kind of superior attitude gets conveyed quite quickly to the other person, who is likely to respond with resistance, either passively or aggressively.

  1. “If you knew what I know, you would agree with me.”

Oh, so the problem is the other person’s ignorance, right?  Now I’m the great authority, the all-knowing source of important information for the other person to absorb, so that he or she can align with my absolutely correct thinking.  No room for learning on my part, is there?  If the other person thinks I see him or her as an ignoramus, they’re not likely to be open to my self-styled wisdom and insight.  In fact, they may decide to live down to my expectations, like this:  “If this guy thinks I’m an idiot, I’ll just go ahead and act like one.”   

  1. “When you reach my level of maturity, you’ll understand.”

Now the problem is not the other person’s lack of knowledge, it’s their immaturity.  Do you think the person who is truly mature ever feels mature?  Maturity is an ongoing process of becoming one’s best self.  True maturity involves humility and a desire to learn and grow.  Many years ago I was in an older pastor’s office.  On the wall there was a plaque that said, “I thought I finally got it all together, but now I can’t remember where I put it.”  Beautiful! 

  1. “My job is to talk. Your job is to listen.”

Ah yes, I’m the master of the monologue.  No comments from you, please.  What I’m saying is too important for you to interrupt.  Besides, I’m afraid that if you interrupt my train of thought, I might run off the rails and not be able to get back on – but I don’t want to admit that, so I just keep talking.  I don’t care if you’ve stopped listening.  I’m going to keep doing my job no matter what:  talking. 

  1. “I know what you’re thinking.”

How do you know?  Omniscience is an attribute of God, not man.    If I think I know what you think, that gives you the right to think you know what I think.  That’s a prescription for relational disaster.  As someone has said, “Overconfidence gives you the courage to act on your faulty convictions.”

Maybe I’m the only one who ever has thoughts like these.  Or maybe not.  What thoughts might  you add to this list?

On the other hand, here are some very different sorts of thoughts to keep in mind in advance of the next conversation. 

  • “I respect you.”
  • “I will listen to you.”
  • “I hope to learn from you.”
  • “I would like to know you better.”
  • “I’m glad we don’t think alike.”

Those are thoughts I want to have.  Can you add some more?  

Downsizing

By Dick Koehneke

This is only the second time I’ve written about aging in these pages – or anywhere, for that matter.  I’m inspired to do so by the excellent writings and insights of Rich Bimler and Charlie Mueller. 

Speaking of Rich and Charlie . . .

I remember the 1989 LCMS Youth Gathering in Denver, Colorado, when I had the great joy of baptizing Rich and Hazel’s infant grandson Matthew in front of  thousands of people.  Matthew’s parents Marty and Diane (Bimler) Cillick were members of the congregation I was serving in New Jersey.  Rich thought we should let some more people share in the joy of Matthew’s baptism.  I thought that was a great idea, and I still do.  Thirty years later, Rich continues to bless me in so many and varied ways.

As for Charlie Mueller:  What a strong force for good he has been in my life, and continues to be.  I first met him at a gathering of pastors during my vicarage year of 1969-70 when I was assigned to a congregation in Long Island, New York.  I remember thinking when I met Charlie and heard him speak, “Wow, this man is really something special!”  I still think that, more than ever.  Little did I know, at the unripe young age of 24, that Charlie would be such an important person in my life for the next 50 years – and counting, thank God.

Now about the subject of aging . . .

“The secret that all old people share is that you really haven’t changed in all these years.  Your body changes, but you don’t change at all.  And that, of course, causes great confusion.”  That’s a quote from the late British novelist Doris Lessing.  It’s found in the new, excellent book Elderhood by Dr. Louise Aronson.

The Lessing quote speaks to me.  The basic personality of an individual stays the same despite the physical changes that aging brings.  For the believer in Jesus Christ, although your personality doesn’t change with the passage of time, spiritually speaking you’re actually being changed for the better, to become more and more like Christ as the Holy Spirit works in you.  “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16)

I think the entire passage is profound and wonderful (2 Corinthians 4:16-5:7).  Here it is. 

“So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.

“For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.

“So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight.”

That’s the key, isn’t it?  We walk by faith, not by sight.  Our assessment of ourselves and our situation is based less on our own external appearances and more on God’s eternal promises – less on our emotions and more on our convictions – less on how we feel and more on what we believe.

We understand more and more what the apostle Paul meant when he said, “When I am weak, then I am strong.”  In our weakness we turn to God for strength.  God is the Source of true and lasting strength that transcends circumstances.  When He gives us His strength, we are strong in supernatural power, even though our muscles and bones may be weakening.  We’re growing while we’re groaning.

Which brings me to the title of this essay:  “Downsizing.”  I wonder if the metaphor of downsizing – moving from a larger place to a smaller one – might be appropriate for the process of aging.  As our bodies age, as our physical “house” becomes smaller, we learn to adapt to smaller space.  “Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day.”  As we lose some strength and mobility, we compensate by adjusting our expectations and finding ways to work within our limitations.  We draw on a reservoir of  endurance and wisdom acquired over decades of experience, to deal with the changing situations that aging brings. 

In short, we view the body/person tension (see  Doris Lessing’s quote above) as a normal part of a grand – if not always glorious – learning experience.

Navigating Difficult Conversations

By Dick Koehneke

That was the focus of a speech by Sheila Heen at last August’s Global Leadership Summit.  A lecturer on law at Harvard Law School, she has worked for two decades at the Harvard Negotiation Project.  Her consulting firm, Triad Consulting Group, works with executive teams to help them make sound decisions together.  She has co-authored two books, Difficult Conversations and Thanks for the Feedback.  If you want to know more, here are two websites you may want to check out:  

https://triadconsultinggroup.com/ and https://stoneandheen.com/

Here are seven of Sheila Heen’s observations at the Global Leadership Summit. [My comments are in brackets.]

  1. “Difficult conversations indicate that you care about what you do, and you care about the people you are doing it with.”

[If you don’t care, you don’t engage.  Apathy is the enemy of excellence.  Apathy is deadly to relationships.  It’s much better to be upset than to be apathetic.  In the midst of a difficult conversation, if you can think to yourself, “I really care about this subject” and/or “I really care about this person” you become much more likely to navigate the conversation in a healthy way.]

  1. “In difficult conversations, we need to become aware of our internal voice, because in difficult conversations our internal voices are turned up to full volume.”

[In a difficult conversation I need to ask myself, “Why am I feeling what I’m feeling right now?  What is it that’s got me so annoyed?  Why am I having such a hard time listening?  What else is going on in my life that might be affecting my feelings and attitudes at this moment?”] 

  1. “The other person also has an internal voice that’s reminding them what they are right about. In most difficult conversations, we feel like it’s our job to set the other person straight.”

[Maybe I’m falling victim to the attitude that says, “I’m not arguing with you, I’m simply explaining why I’m right.”  People don’t respond well to someone else’s self-righteousness and sense of superiority.  We don’t appreciate being treated with this kind of condescension:  “Your problem is that you don’t know all that I know; if you did, you would agree with me.”]

  1. “Instead of trying to prove who’s right, try asking what it is that we both think this conversation is about. Why do we see this situation so differently?”

[That question could help clear up a lot of confusion, couldn’t it?  So often people talk right past each other because they don’t realize that they are talking about two (or more) different things.  That happens in marriages and families, in the workplace, in the community, everywhere.  Let’s agree on the subject of the conversation before we start talking.]

  1. “Instead of asking whose fault it is, try asking what each of us has contributed to this problem. Blame looks for who is at fault. It assumes someone is wrong.”

[The Biblical statement, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” doesn’t apply only to everybody else on the planet.  “All” includes me.  Another good question could be, “What can each of us contribute to solving this problem?”]

  1. “Separate intentions from impact.”

[We can evaluate behavior, but we cannot discern motives.  Sometimes we mess up when we are sincerely trying to do the right thing.  A mistake is not the same as a sin.  There is truth and wisdom in the saying, “We judge others by their worst moments, but we judge ourselves by our best intentions.” Why not assume the best, not the worst, about the intentions of the other person?]     

  1. “Stop holding on to an either/or mentality. We are saints and sinners, fallible but also precious to God. Sometimes we misunderstand each other and let each other down.  We need each other to learn from those mistakes.”

[I love the many “both/and” truths of our Christian faith.  God is a Trinity, both Three and One.  Jesus Christ is both true God and true man.  The Bible is both human words and the Word of God.  Holy Communion is both bread and wine and the body and blood of Christ.  Eternal life is both “here and now” and “not yet.”  Let’s celebrate paradox and mystery instead of trying to figure everything out.  Let’s rejoice in the complexity of one another and the relationships that God has given us.  When we do that, we can navigate difficult conversations and find our way through them together.]   

Practicing Patience

By Dick Koehneke

Have you heard this definition of patience?  It’s the quality you admire in the driver behind you and despise in the driver in front of you!  Here are a few thoughts on the subject of patience.  

  1. Patience is not the same as being passive. Patience is not about inactivity, but about activity that is appropriate and helpful to the situation.  Patience is about putting your resources where they can make a positive difference, instead of squandering time and money and energy on wasted effort.
  1. Patience means that grumbling gives way to gratitude. Why grumble when you can be grateful?   Grumbling is a waste of time and energy.  Grumbling and worry are first cousins.  When worry is in your heart and mind, grumbling is what comes out of your mouth.  Grumbling also implies a profound sense of arrogance, as though your problems are all the result of somebody else.  Take a good, long look in the mirror. That should cure your grumbling and make you grateful for the people in your life who are willing to stick with you. 
  1. Patience means that we stop lamenting what we lack and start using what we have. When we get caught up in complaining about what we don’t have, we neglect what we do have. The reason the grass looks greener on the other side of the fence may be that it’s artificial turf!  When you’re getting bored with your marriage, the best thing to do is to take that energy you are starting to put into something else – or someone else  – and invest it in your spouse.  If you’re fantasizing about some different job, refocus your attention on giving your best effort to the job you have.  If you’re dreaming about being a great athlete or musician some day, keep practicing the fundamentals of your sport or your instrument.  
  1. Patience involves giving God time to work things out. You might be praying for a promotion to a new position.  Good!  God wants to bless not only you but also the person who is presently in that position, so it will take time to work things out for the good of all.  You might be praying for higher income, but maybe you need to learn to live within the limits of what you have right now, so that more money won’t just mean more money out the window.  For some reason, we seem to learn more life lessons in the school of struggle than we do in the school of success.  
  1. When we’re going through tough times, patience involves learning to stop saying “Why me?” That’s a dead-end question.  It leads nowhere good.  Instead of saying “Why me?” let’s pray:

Teach me!  Lord, what do you want me to learn from this experience?” 

Change me!  Father, use this difficult time to make me more like Jesus.” 

Use me!  God, help me to bless someone else in this situation with empathy and compassion, now that I know what it feels like.” 

  1. Patience means we learn to appreciate the word “UNTIL . . .”

“UNTIL” means there is something coming.  It’s not here yet, but it’s on the way.  James 5:7 says, “Be patient UNTIL the Lord’s coming.” Praise God that he is patient with the world, not rushing to judgment, but giving everyone every opportunity to repent and turn to Christ in faith.  The apostle Paul wrote, “Whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death UNTIL he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)  As we celebrate Holy Communion, we look forward to the eternal feast at the heavenly banquet table.    

“UNTIL” is a word of hope and anticipation.  It helps us to practice patience, as we deal with the challenges and opportunities we face each day.

Five Pillars

By Dick Koehneke

Tony Bennett, the head coach of the men’s basketball team at the University of Virginia, is a strong Christian.  Last year his team was the #1 overall seed in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, also known as “March Madness.”  They lost in the first round to a #16 seed.  It was the first time in the tournament’s history that a #1 lost to a #16. 

This year they won the national championship.  Coach Bennett calls last year’s first-round loss “a painful gift.”  It caused him and his team to focus on what’s most important to his team’s culture.  He defines the most important factors as “five pillars.”  (Some people might call them “core values.”)  All five reflect Coach Bennett’s deep Christian faith.  These are the five pillars:

  • Humility
  • Passion
  • Unity
  • Servanthood
  • Thankfulness

How might the five pillars apply to friends and followers of Jesus Christ?  Here are a few of my own reflections.  

Humility:  “And Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the Lord’s servant.  Let it be to me according to your word.’” (Luke 1:37)

The English word “humble” comes from the Latin word “humus” (meaning earth or ground).  In English “humus” refers to the dark organic material in soils that is essential to the fertility of the earth.  It accepts whatever is planted in it and brings forth an abundant crop.  The essence of Christian humility is being open and available, as Mary was, to whatever seed God wants to plant in your life, producing the harvest that He desires.  That’s humility. 

Passion:  “I know your works; you are neither cold nor hot.  Would that you were either cold or hot!  So, because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth.”  (Revelation 3:15-16) 

Lukewarm, self-satisfied people who claim to be Christians are distasteful to God.  People who are “cold” don’t claim to be Christians.  They may be more open to God than the lukewarm hypocrites:  those who claim to love God but are really full of themselves.  Lord, forgive my lukewarm apathy toward You and set me on fire with zeal for Your purposes! 

Unity:  “For as in one body we have many members, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members of one another.”  (Romans 12:4-5)  

We belong to Christ, and we belong to each other too.  What affects one of us affects all of us.  Teammates want to play their very best, not in order to get individual rewards, but so that the team can win.  We’re in this together.  We need each other.  We are “members of one another.”  That’s unity. 

Servanthood:  “As each has received a gift, use it to serve others, as good stewards of God’s varied grace . . . in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 4:10-11) 

The world’s favorite question is, “What’s in it for me?”  The Christian’s favorite question is, “What’s in me for you?”  Asked another way,  “What do I have that you need?”  You might be God’s answer to someone’s prayer.  God works through each one of us in a different way to convey His blessings to others.  You are a blessing of God going somewhere to happen. 

Thankfulness:  “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.” (Colossians 3:16)

Thankfulness is therapeutic.  Gratitude is good for our well-being.  As we think about God’s blessings in this life and His promised blessings in the life to come, we never run out of reasons for thanksgiving.  Even our hardest experiences can be reasons for thanksgiving.  Tony Bennett was thankful for the “painful gift” of last year’s first-round loss.  His gratitude led to this year’s final victory.     

Are You Listening?

By Dick Koehneke

Jesus saw the two disciples of John following him.  He asked them, “What are you seeking?”  They said, “Rabbi, where are you staying?”  Jesus replied, “Come, and you will see.”  (John 1:38-39)

Jesus listened carefully to the two disciples of  John.  He did not give them what they asked for.  They wanted his address.  He gave them what they needed:  a relationship with him.

When your prayers are not answered in the way you expect, remember how the Lord works.  He knows you better than you know yourself.  He knows that what you want may not be what you need.  He is listening carefully, with care for you.   

I appreciate this devotional meditation titled, “I Asked and He Gave.”  “I asked God for strength, and he gave me challenges to make me strong.  I asked God for wisdom, and he gave me problems to solve.  I asked God for prosperity, and he gave me the ability to think and work.  I asked God for courage, and he gave me obstacles to overcome.  I asked God for love, and he gave me troubled people for me to help.”  That’s how God works.

“Where are you staying?”  they asked.  “Come and see,” Jesus said.  He was listening carefully and with care.

Are we listening to one another?  The temptation in these hurried and hectic times is to do what I call, “Snap, Jump, and Rush.”  Make snap decisions about another person.  Jump to conclusions.  Rush to judgment.    Snap, Jump, Rush.  Is that how you want to be treated?  Let’s not treat each other that way. 

We’ve all had the experience of being misunderstood.  It doesn’t feel very good, does it?  Sometimes we want to say, “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  There are times when the best thing to do is to say, “Let’s rewind the tape and start over!”  Or as the engineer in the recording studio says, “Take two!  Let’s do it until we get it right!”  That’s the way to understand each other. 

I’d like to say something to young people.  If you’re not so young, maybe you could share these thoughts in your own words with the young people in your life.  Here goes: 

Dear young people, when you listen to your parents, listen for the meaning behind their words.  When you hear them making rules and setting boundaries, you may think they are saying, “We don’t want you to have any fun.  We don’t trust you.”  That’s not what they mean.  Here is the meaning behind their words:  “We love you more than you can imagine.  We want only the very best for you.  We don’t want harm to come to you.  We want you to grow up into the fullness of God’s plan for you.”  That’s what your parents are really saying.

God has given us the Good News of Jesus Christ to share with people whose lives we touch.  In order for us to communicate the Gospel in a way that connects with others, we need to learn to know them, and that takes some careful, caring listening — listening that hears the meaning behind the words, listening that uncovers real needs, listening that leads to the practical application of real Christ-like love to meet those real needs.  In the Spirit of Christ and by the Spirit’s power, we want to listen carefully and with care — to those near and dear to us, to people we barely know, and everyone in between.  

They asked Jesus, “Where are you staying?”  He answered, “Come and see.”  The next time someone asks you, “Where is your church?” or even “Where do you live?” you could give them the location, or you could say “Come and see!”

   

 

In the Shadow of the Cross

By Dick Koehneke

As Peter, James and John trudged up the Mount of Transfiguration with Jesus, they might have been thinking about his words spoken in the verses right before the Gospel reading for The Transfiguration of our Lord (Luke 9:28-36).  Speaking of himself, Jesus had said, “The Son of Man must suffer many things . . . he must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.”  Then Jesus had said these strong and challenging words:  “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.” 

Following Jesus can be tough going.           

Maybe it was tough going for Peter, James and John, climbing up that mountain.  Perhaps there was some slipping and falling, some bruised knees and scraped knuckles along the way.  When they got to the top of the mountain, it wasn’t tough going anymore.  Scripture says that as Jesus was praying, the appearance of his face changed, and his clothes became dazzling white. 

And to top it off, suddenly there stood Moses and Elijah, one of them personally buried by God and the other taken up to heaven in a whirlwind; Moses and Elijah, representing the law and the prophets of the Old Covenant; Moses and Elijah, standing there talking with Jesus!            

What were the three disciples doing?  Not much.  They were taking a nap.  They couldn’t stay awake on the mountaintop, and they couldn’t stay awake in the Garden of Gethsemane either.  Neither the glory of Jesus nor his agony could keep them from taking their rest.  But once they roused themselves from their slumber, Peter, James and John thought they had found a shortcut to heaven.  They weren’t thinking anymore about denying themselves and carrying a cross.  This was glorious!  They wanted to stay there on the mountain.  Peter suggested building a tent village.  He didn’t know what he was saying. 

Sometimes we don’t either.  Sometimes our tiredness or boredom keeps us from paying attention to Jesus.  Sometimes we become resentful and self-pitying when suffering and hardship come our way.  We want to stay on the mountaintop, when Jesus calls us instead to follow him on the way that leads to the cross.  Ash Wednesday and Lent and Holy Week remind us that the path to glory goes through Golgotha.  The way to the crown is the way of the cross.

That’s exactly what Jesus, Moses and Elijah were talking about.  The Bible says, “They spoke about Jesus’ departure, which he was about to bring to fulfillment at Jerusalem.”  The word “departure” meant his death on the cross, as when someone “departs” this life.  There on the mountaintop, they were talking about the cross.  Speaking figuratively, the Transfiguration took place in the shadow of the cross. 

But the cross was not the end.  Jesus’ “departure” also meant his glorious departure from the tomb on Easter morning.  The light that created the shadow of the cross was the glory of the resurrection on the other side. 

Following Jesus can be tough going.  For the Christian, the sufferings of life are not eliminated. They are illuminated by the glory that is to come. 

That word “departure” also refers to the ascension of our Lord, his physical departure from this world.  He says to all believers, “I am going to prepare a place for you.  I will come again and take you to be with me, to behold my glory.  Where I am, there shall my servant be also.”  The struggles of today are experienced in the light of a victorious eternity. 

At the Transfiguration, God the Father spoke from the cloud:  “This is my Son, whom I have chosen.  Listen to him.”  We listen to Jesus, the chosen Son of God, as he says, “If anyone wants to come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”

When you’re following Jesus, you’re crucifying your sinful self.  That’s painful. When you’re following Jesus, the sinful world sees you as an enemy.  That’s difficult.  When you’re following Jesus, Satan wants to take you down.  That’s dangerous. 

Following Jesus can be tough going.  Thank God, you’re not by yourself.  Fellow Christians are walking with you, and Jesus is with you every step of the way to a victorious eternity. 

If life sometimes seems dark in the shadow of the cross, remember:  The light that is casting the shadow is the light of resurrection glory on the other side.   

Give God the Last Word!

By Dick Koehneke

When Jesus had finished [teaching the people from the boat], he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.”  Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” (Luke 5:4-5)

If Simon Peter and his friends had listened only to their feelings, they would have gone home empty-handed.  They were tired, worn out, and frustrated.  They had put in hours of hard work with nothing to show for it.

If Simon and his friends had been slaves to their circumstances, they never would have experienced the miracle Jesus wanted to give them, and they might never have become his followers and friends.  The fish simply weren’t there.  They hadn’t been there all through the night, when fishing was supposed to be good.  They certainly wouldn’t be there in the heat of the day. 

But Simon Peter and his partners did not listen only to their feelings.  They listened to Jesus.  They did not obey their circumstances.  They obeyed Jesus.  They gave him the last word.  They did what he said.  What happened?  They caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.  They had to call for help from another boat, and both boats were filled with fish!  Then they left everything and followed Jesus. 

Let’s take another look at Simon Peter’s words:“ Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  What if he had said it the other way around?  “Master, you tell us to let down the nets.  But we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.”  He would have been giving the last word to his feelings and his circumstances.  His decision would have been dictated by emotions and events, not the word of the Lord.

You and I are tempted to do the same thing.  Thank God, we know the Word of God.  We hear it.  We read it.  We discuss it.  But sometimes, when the crunch comes, we give the final say to feelings and circumstances.  We are guided by emotions and events instead of God’s Word.  Listen to how it works:

  • “Jesus says he is always with me, but I feel so alone.”
  • “God tells me to forgive, but I am really hurt right now.”
  • “God’s Word says not to be afraid, but I’m facing some huge struggles.”
  • “The Lord wants me to work on my job as though I’m working for Him, but my boss is so hard to please.”
  • “The Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin, but I feel so guilty, so dirty, so ashamed.”

That’s what happens when we give the last word to our feelings and our circumstances.  We’re walking by sight, not by faith.  That road leads nowhere good. 

Here is what Simon Peter actually said: “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything.  But because you say so, I will let down the nets.”  He acknowledged his feelings.  He recognized his circumstances.  But he gave the final say to Jesus.  He took action based not on his emotions or events, but on the word of the Lord.  Here’s how it works.  Here are the same five sentences with the clauses reversed, giving God the last word.  

  • “I feel so alone, but Jesus says he is always with me.”
  • “I am really hurt right now, but God tells me to forgive.”
  • “I’m facing some huge struggles, but God’s Word says not to be afraid.”
  • “My boss is so hard to please, but the Lord wants me to work on my job as though I’m working for Him.”
  • “I feel so guilty, so dirty, so ashamed, but the Bible tells us that the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.”

What a difference!  What a transformation!  Now we’re walking by faith, not by sight.  Give God the last word.  Don’t deny your feelings or stuff your emotions.  Acknowledge them, express them, but don’t give them the last word!  Give God the last word, and feel your emotions begin to change!

Don’t ignore your circumstances or pretend that events aren’t happening.  Stay informed about what’s going on around you, but don’t let events dictate your decisions.  Give God the last word, and you will change the reality around you.  When one person changes his or her behavior, it changes the situation.

I love the command and promise of Galatians 6:9 — “Let us not grow weary of doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”  The proper time is God’s proper time.  It may come today.  It may happen tomorrow, or a year from now, or a decade from now.  It may not happen in your lifetime.  The harvest may come in the next generation or the generations after that.  It most certainly will come when we are together forever in heaven. 

Then God will have the everlasting last word:  “Welcome home!”