Archives For Relationships

Nineteen years ago today, I married my college sweetheart. When we wed, we had dated for most of three years. I say “most of” because she occasionally got the jitters, but we worked that out (and the making up was always fun). Love grew deep roots in our hearts, and I tired of driving her home at night. She was a beautiful woman who loved Jesus, served others, liked to laugh, and challenged me more than anyone I had known. She still is.

I looked through some old pictures this morning, and I laughed when I saw this one. We are holding on for dear life, like the winds are going to blow us off the mountain if we let go of one another. Through nineteen years, our life journey has led us over beautiful mountaintops and through dark valleys. We have soaked up the sun and laughed some days away. We have weathered the winds and storms when they have come. Through it all, we still hold on to one another for dear life. I think that’s how marriage should be. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

JeffandNan_Wyoming1992Taken near Sheridan, Wyoming, where I served as a student minister during two college summers.

NOTE: With our move to Edmond, Oklahoma to plant Redemption Church, I haven’t had a lot of time to write. So, I wanted to pass along a recent post that I wrote for my friends at Authentic Manhood. I’ve written several pieces in the Training Guide for their 33: The Series biblical manhood study. If you aren’t familiar with them, I hope you will check it out, grab some guys, and launch into the series together. If you decide to purchase the series, you can receive a 5% discount by using the discount code “Resident55,” and I will receive 15% of the proceeds (as a church plant resident).

MOVING BEYOND FREE-AGENT FRIENDSHIP

I haven’t had a friend in years.” The comment surprised me. I knew it was (sort of) a joke, but there was enough truth in it to reveal the frustration. In years of working with men, I’ve never had a guy say, “You know, I just have too many deep friendships.” No, whenever I share about biblical friendship, guys almost always say, “I need friends like that.

CLICK TO READ THE REST OF THE ARTICLE AT AUTHENTICMANOOD.COM.

RUGGED ROMANCE

February 7, 2012 — Leave a comment

I was editing a video recently and came across the predictable “Romantic Effect” video editing tool. You know the one. It puts a dreamy blurry weepy air around the person in the shot. The effect tries to give the impression that you are viewing the world through tears of joy. It’s the look that you (you, not me) see on Hallmark movies in the middle of the day when you are sick and no one else is home.

Confession: The video I was editing was a short clip of me talking into the camera, so I put the Romantic filter on myself just to see what it looked like. Creepy.

But the “Romantic” special effect annoyed me for another reason. A more important reason. The very fact that we’ve created such this special effect and given it the title “Romantic” is bothersome. Romance is not a fuzzy fluffy furry moment of spontaneous affection. Our definition of romance needs an upgrade.

Romance isn’t a Relational Special Effect

One of the reasons that so many relationships fail is that they are built upon the “The Romantic Effect.” When a relationship begins, a couple strings together a series of “romantic” moments: first date, first kiss, first birthday gift, first time to watch Gladiator together, first Christmas. As long as they have a fuzzy film moment once a month or so without major interruption, things are good. Or seem to be.

Adolescent relationships are built on this stuff. That’s why we call it teenage romance. In those years, your life is filled with open spaces and open calendars. You have time to unintentionally wander into romantic moments.

The problem with teenage romance is that you have to keep the romantic effect moments happening in new and fresh and different ways. But life just doesn’t allow for a never-ending number of these types of experiences. Far too often, when the newness wears off and the “romantic” moments slow, people trade one partner in for another. Then, they start the romantic filter cycle all over again.

Growing older doesn’t necessarily mean growing up. We find ourselves in a nation of adult adolescents, growing older but still seeking teenage romance.

Fast-forward a few years into marriage for those who make that commitment. If we are lucky (and disciplined), we manage a long weekend away each year where we can create a few moments that are truly special moments as a couple. But there are 361 other days in the year. Try simply adding the Romantic Filter to the picture once you’ve added a few kids, a few sleepless nights, and a few budget line items that are way out of whack. It is going to take more than spontaneous sweetness to maintain the romance as you move through the seasons of life.

We need a stronger love, a more rugged romance.

Fighting for a More Rugged Romance

This is a blog post and not a book, so I don’t have time to go into all the complexities of relationships and marriage. I’m not trying to cover it all. For the sake of this post, I want to offer a single encouragement to you: be tenacious.

Ephesians 5 instructs us about marriage: “a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife” (italics mine).

I love the phrase “hold fast.” To hold fast means to secure a thing in place.* It is to bolt something in place so tightly that it can’t be loosened. We are told to make our wives secure in their relationship to us, so secure that you can never be separated from them.

If we are to hold fast to our spouses, we must fight for our togetherness. When I conduct a wedding ceremony, I always tell the couple to “guard the oneness of their relationship.” We go to battle to protect the union we were intended to enjoy.

Or, at least we should.

John Piper wrote, “When historians list the character traits of America in the last third of the twentieth century, commitment, constancy, tenacity, endurance, patience, resolve, and perseverance will not be on the list…We all need help here. We are surrounded by, and are part of, a society of emotionally fragile quitters.”**

We are now a decade into the next century, and we are no better off. In fact, I think the pace of rapid fire technology and constant digital play has further deteriorated our ability to focus on the important things and deliver day-in and day-out with determination. When we face difficultly, we assume “there’s an app for that” and hope the problem takes care of itself. And our marriages suffer for it.

That is why tenacity has become an increasingly important part of the conversations I have about marriage. In fact, I would list it as the number two requirement behind the gospel.*** Communication is important. Learning to appreciate differences is helpful. Being able to work out a budget makes a big difference. But tenacity trumps technique. Tenacious couples stick it out when things stink. They work on things when things aren’t working. Tenacious couples find romance in both the peaks and valleys of life.

Men, we are called to love our wives as Jesus loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). That means that we should love with the strongest, most tenacious love imaginable.

One of the most profound and most comforting statements in all the Bible, speaks of the  tenacious love of Jesus:

“Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:35-39)

Let me restate these verses and relate them to marriage…

Since we are called to love like Jesus, let me ask you: what shall separate you from loving your wife? Shall success or debt or dishes or laundry or hobbies or television or hardship or unemployment or cancer or kids or lust or anger? I am sure that none of these things, past or present or future, nor anything else in all creation should be able to separate you from loving your wife.

Husband, hold fast to your wife. Do not let anything separate you from her. Be tenacious about togetherness.

Our world does not need more short-lived scenes with romantic filters applied. But we do need more couples holding fast to one another with a rugged romance that lasts.

What God has joined together, let no one separate.

Is there anything that is driving a wedge between you and your spouse? Is there anything you need to repent of and confess to your spouse? Is there any activity you need to initiate to foster togetherness? Is there a routine of dating and time together that you need to protect as vital?

-jdl

* Random House Unabridged Dictionary

** John Piper, The Roots of Endurance: Invincible Perseverance in the Lives of John Newton, Charles Simeon, and William Willberforce

*** By gospel, I mean the acute awareness and belief that you are broken and in need of God’s love and forgiveness that is only available through the finished work of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

Note: The “Some Thoughts on ‘How to Talk to Little Girls'” post has generated a lot of interest and brought new people to the blog. I thought I would repost a previous favorite to share with all the new readers. Enjoy…

I recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.”  These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.

As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.

GUYS NEED PROPS

Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.

In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.

My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.

If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.

GUYS NEED PLANS

Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.

With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.

The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.

Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.

GUYS NEED RISKS

The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.

Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.

Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.

GUYS NEED LAUGHS

With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.

For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.

-jdl

As a father of a little girl who will have her second birthday in January, I was interested in the recent article titled “How to Talk to Little Girls.” The excellent Huffington Post piece by Lisa Bloom has created a buzz, with nearly 400,000 people “liking” the article on Facebook.

Bloom points out the dangers of highlighting a little girl’s physical beauty before or above other things. This is typified by the normal practice of strangers, or friends, who lead off a meeting with a little girl by saying something along the lines of “aren’t you the cutest thing ever?”

Kate, at the Beach this Summer

My daughter, Kate, is beautiful. I’m completely biased and entirely certain that she is adorable by any standard. When people meet her for the first time, I can affirm that they generally comment on how cute she is. Of course, I wouldn’t argue with their assessment at all, but I also see how this emphasis on her external beauty could shape her thinking over time. I would never want Kate’s joy in life or sense of self-worth to be dependent on man’s praise of her outward beauty.

We are a visually obsessed culture. I also have three boys, and I find myself flinching routinely during televised football games at the flaunting of female beauty on the sidelines and in the commercials. While I believe God created physical beauty to be enjoyed (God made female and male bodies unique for a reason), our society has obviously over-indulged the physical. This is a serious problem that most pastors and churches hesitate to address, usually because church-going folks are just as influenced by beauty-worship as non-church people.

The Bible signals a warning to us about overemphasizing physical attractiveness. Proverbs 31:30 warns, “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain.” One of more blunt verses in Scripture, Proverbs 11:22 says, “Like a gold ring in a pig’s snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” These warnings tell us that this is not just an issue for American women of the 21st century. There is something universal in this struggle that isn’t going away in our time.

I am thankful that Lisa Bloom sounds the alarm for us about how our words impress unhealthy values on our littlest ladies. But I also want to issue a warning of my own about Bloom’s solution to this problem.

The Mind is Not Better than the Body

Bloom’s answer to our beauty-obsession appears to swap physical beauty for intellectual capacity. She writes:

Teaching girls that their appearance is the first thing you notice tells them that looks are more important than anything. It sets them up for dieting at age 5 and foundation at age 11 and boob jobs at 17 and Botox at 23. As our cultural imperative for girls to be hot 24/7 has become the new normal, American women have become increasingly unhappy. What’s missing? A life of meaning, a life of ideas and reading books and being valued for our thoughts and accomplishments.

While this sounds like a helpful corrective, I think it introduces a new problem. Notice what is important to Bloom? She directs us to the life she values more: ideas and books and thoughts and accomplishments.

Here is my question: Are these really better than beauty?

Perhaps they might make one more financially secure or more independent or more academically successful. It is certainly true that the life of the mind tends to outlast youthful beauty which inevitably sags with time. So, maybe it is better to some small extent.

But it is not enough.

Beauty and Intelligence and Performance and Morality Are Not Enough

So, here is my problem with Bloom’s solution to the beauty-worship problem: the mind-worship problem isn’t any better. A little girl does not need to hear that her value is determined by her boob size, but neither does she does need to hear that her value is determined by her brain size.  Intelligence and success and independence do not meet our deepest needs.

In fact, when we seek to find our value in our performance, it may be even more dangerous. It’s easy for someone who has accomplished much to take pride in their intellect or ingenuity or toughness or determination. A person who performs well may even demean beauty as “something you are born with” as opposed to accomplishments which they have “earned.” Dependence on performance can be just as crippling as dependence on beauty.

Of course, Religious people have their own spin on the performance problem. Rather than stressing beauty or intelligence or success, they put the emphasis on morality. Girls are taught that their value or goodness depends on their ability to keep the rules. This may be the most insidious kind of performance idol. Religious types construct their performance idols on the foundation of Scripture, which makes them even harder to detect. To the religious person, this moral performance trap feels righteous.

Why Little Girls (And Boys) Need the Gospel of Jesus Above All Else

I must recognize that I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear. She will always live in a world that overvalues her beauty. She will also have to deal with pressures to measure up intellectually and educationally and financially. Countless voices will praise, or criticize, her according to unhealthy standards.

I cannot control all of the voices that my daughter will hear, but I do know which one I want to be the loudest in her ears. It is not the voice of her boyfriend, or the academic advisor at her college, or the CEO of her company, or even my voice as her father. It is the voice of Jesus.

Her deepest longing is not to be loved for her beauty, praised for her intelligence, or admired for her performance. No, the deepest longing of the human heart is to be loved, and this longing is so deep that only God can fill it.

The gospel, or good news, of Jesus says to us, “You are loved as you are. Regardless of how beautiful and smart and successful you feel, you are so broken that life on your own merits will never be enough. And regardless of how ugly or dumb or unsuccessful you feel, you are so loved that Jesus gave his life so that he could be with you forever.”

Most of us spend our lives working to prove ourselves. We exhaust ourselves as we try and try to convince people that we deserve to be accepted.* There is a cost to this kind of acceptance. It takes something out of us in the process and must be continually earned. The gospel frees us from this compulsion. When we operate from a place of gospel-security that is grounded in the love of God rather than in her own ability to measure up, we are truly free. Only then can we enjoy beauty and intellect and performance in freedom rather than compulsion.

I think that is part of what the Bible means when it says, “Let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev 22:17).

If you find yourself thirsty, come as you are to Jesus who offers you acceptance and love and life at no cost to yourself. He gave his life to free you from the beauty trap and the intelligence trap and the performance trap. It cost Jesus everything, but you were worth it.

So, how should we talk to little girls?

When I talk to Kate, I will say:

“I love you. I love the way your hair rolls into ringlets and falls into your eyes. I love the way you read yourself books, even though you can’t read. I love the way you dance and twirl around the kitchen. I love the way you wave at cars that pass on our walks. I love the way you scream “Dad” in the middle of the night. I love the way you  say “do it again” when we do something fun. I even love the permanent marker custom design you put on my new Mac. But as much as I love you, Jesus loves you more. I sacrifice a lot because I love you, but Jesus sacrificed everything because he loves you. So if somewhere along the way you fail a test or love a boy who does not love you back or have a mastectomy or develop Alzheimers or gain some weight or lose a job, you will still hold infinite value because Jesus loves you. No matter what. You are loved exactly as you are. Always.”

I’d love to read your comments…
What in this post resonates with you? Do you find yourself fighting against the beauty trap or intelligence trap or performance trap? How do you talk to your little girls about these things?

-jdl

* Thanks to Tim Keller for this thought, which I once jotted down and then was unable to find as I wrote this post.

As Thanksgiving nears, I was thinking about things I’m thankful for. The first thing that came to mind was the men that God has used to sharpen my life over the years. We are shaped by those around us, and I have been blessed with great relationships with great men. Scripture says, “To whom much is given, much will be required.” I have been given much, and that privilege brings a weightiness to life that is a joy to carry.

A few observations as I surveyed the list of men:

  • Many people have a role to play in our lives–some big, some small but all are significant.
  • God uses different kinds of people in different times of life.
  • Dudes need other dudes to invest in them. Positive masculine influence is essential in the development of men. Iron sharpens iron.

At the end of this post, I included several questions for you to reflect on personally.

Homer Duane Lawrence
My Dad inhabits one of the coolest names possible and likes to fancy himself a rapper named HomerDee. He taught me what it means to laugh and to love and to live. From throwing footballs to bike rides to ski trips, he made growing up fun. I know of no man more faithful in doing the right thing in the right way at the right time. He taught me how to have a backbone and do what is best, even if nobody sees. He showed me that loving people means sacrifice. I’ve never heard a bad word spoken about my father.

Kenneth Lay
Pastor Lay was the pastor that prayed with me when I first trusted Jesus. He baptized me and welcomed me into Christ’s church. I was young, but I remember a gracious man who loved God and loved people.

John Lanata
John was a leader in our youth group. Lanata was a 5’8” inch cannonball of a man who lived like he was set on fire. He would shake your hand like a meat grinder and then slap you on the back with the force of mule kick. In my memory, he weighed 220 and ran 7 miles a day. He was an F.B.I agent. You heard that right – F-B-I. When I was 16, he told me I had what it took to be FBI too. I don’t know if he was just a dad with a slew of daughters looking for ways to escape a household of estrogen or not, but he invested in me and believed in me. Some days, I still want to be an FBI guy.

Ken Surritte
Ken was a youth pastor who showed me what it was to invest relationally as a shepherd. He loved kids. At 3 A.M in the morning, he still loved kids. He let us do stupid stuff like have Nerf gun fights in the church late at night when things tend to spontaneously break. He let students learn to lead in ministry, even though it got messy (figuratively and literally). Ken let me get my first taste of using my gifts to serve Jesus in the local church.

Kim Bearden
Kim was my youth minister and the first guy to hire me for a ministry job (which he paid for out of his own pocket). Kim made hard decisions to buck tradition in order to create the best ministry for reaching and teaching students. I learned from Kim about spending time with the Lord, telling my friends about Jesus, and listening to the preaching of the Word as though it was the key to life.

Terral Bearden (For those that were wondering…yes, they are brothers)
Terral looked like Grizzly Adams, filled his own bullets with powder, and ate things like bear and elk. He didn’t shoot deer from a stand positioned 25 yards from a corn feeder either; he trekked up snow covered mountains and picked them off at great distances. We once shot 96 prairie dogs in about 90 minutes, and I’m still proud of the fact that I got three with a single bullet. He pastored a small church that paid him very little. He often installed carpet to make ends meet. I had the honor of living in his basement and serving his church as youth minister for two summers during college. I got to see how he loved his wife and his kids. My time with him marked me so much that I asked him to be the minister at my wedding.

Louie Giglio
Louie taught me how to worship. In my college years, 1000+ sudents would gather on Monday nights to experience passionate worship and great teaching. Louie repeatedly told us that if we could only make a part of the event, we should come to the worship rather than the talk. As a pre-med student studying long hours in the library, I would run from the library for the worship time and then, often before Louie preached, return to the library. Worship was the most important part of the night because Louie was not the focus, God was.

Tommy Nelson
I first got to know Tommy via cassette tape sermons that his church mailed every other week in packets of two. I listened to more than 500 sermons on tape. After college, I invested a year in Tommy’s “Young Guns” discipleship program, which met each morning at 6 AM. We started Day 1 in Genesis 1:1 and went verse-by-verse as far as we could go each day. Tommy had memorized the entire New Testament. On drives in his car, we would play “stump the preacher”: we’d read a verse, and he’d quote the verse before and after it from memory. His teaching through the Song of Solomon changed my dating and marriage. Lessons from Tommy about life, theology and ministry continue to direct my steps.

John Hannah
Dr. Hannah helped me laugh deeply and think deeply, usually at the same time. We’d sing a hymn before each class, and he’d intro the song with “here’s a horrible little ditty with awful theology, let’s sing it with all our hearts.” He would rub his hand through his unkempt hair and offer humble wisdom like: “the best of us are only right eighty percent of the time.” His willingness to keep things real in a class of uptight seminarians was a salve for my soul. He taught me that the Reformed doctrines of depravity and grace give us the freedom to laugh and the confidence to rest in God’s sovereignty. He introduced me to John Owen, Jonathan Edwards and the Puritans.

Bob Pyne
Before I ever met Dr. Pyne, a close friend told me, “If you were ever a professor, you would be like Bob Pyne.” Bob taught me how to think. He demonstrated fairness and honesty and balance in theology. I graded for Bob at the seminary, and was given the privilege of teaching for him when he was gone. We co-taught a class on Science and Theology in Kiev, Ukraine. When we were there, we filled large jugs of water and tied them to a pole so that we could lift weights in our dorm room (and on the last day or our trip discovered that the school had a legit weight room that we could have used). Bob helped me to see God’s love for the poor, the handicapped, the suffering and the overlooked of this world.

Jeff Bingham
Dr. Bingham was a tall man with a small head that rested on broad shoulders from which protruded long arms that culminiated in skinny fingers. God created Dr. Bingham to be a professor. Even though he insisted, I struggled dropping the “Dr.” from his name. I can’t do it in writing as a type this notation. I never use the word notation either, but I feel like I must when speaking of Dr. Bingham. I purposely took more classes from him in seminary than anyone else. His “Life and Worship in the Early Church” was my favorite course. Classes in Church History, History of Doctrine, Augustine, Barth, and more were foundational for me. He was first reader on my Masters Thesis, which I turned in a day late because I wanted to get it right. His passion for the the Word of God expressed theologically still lights my path.

Mike Monroe
My father-in-law, Mike, is a master of one-liner wit delivered at unexpected moments. He is steady-as-they-come no matter what happens in the course of a day. Mike has taught me a lot about relationships lived without pressure or guilt. He’s a fair-minded man, who treats people well. He’s an open-handed man, who gives freely. I’m grateful for the ways he loves his daughter and loves his grandchildren.

Neil Tomba & David Fletcher
Neil and David offered me a job at the church I was attending while in seminary. Then, they offered me more responsibility to lead on the team just a few months later. These men invested finances, time, energy and relationship in my development. They trusted me, challenged me, and encouraged me as a young pastor and friend. Under their watch, I grew as a preacher, leader and servant during our years together.

Brian McCurry
Brian is a faithful friend and partner in the gospel. McCurry is a “get ‘er done” servant-leader who loves Jesus. He was a great teammate, whose strengths often made up for my weaknesses. Brian makes disciples of Jesus and may be the best small group leader I know. He was willing to do what was right in a tough time at great personal sacrifice. That is true character.

Yancey Arrington, Jason Ganze, Craig Hasselbach, Scott James, Andy Kerckhoff, & Mitch Kramer
Six friends that began as an accountability group meeting Wednesdays at 11pm at a dock on the Brazos River near Baylor University. These guys are my “Fandango” guys, named after the movie and the time capsule we once buried and returned to dig up up ten years later. We still get together each year to share laughs and life. I won’t take time here to tell you about them individually, but I cannot imagine a group of higher quality men with whom I could walk through life. These guys have my back, no matter what. My wife has full permission to call these men if I ever stop loving Jesus, loving her, or loving our kids. Three pastors, a social entrepreneur, a junior high school teacher, and a dentist who will be pall bearers at my funeral, unless they beat me to the finish line.  [You can read more about how to develop friendships like this here.]

What men or women have influenced you? How can you express your gratitude to them this week? Who is God calling you to pour your life and influence into this year?

-jdl

Finding Compañeros

July 21, 2010 — 6 Comments

COMPANEROSI recently read Lonesome Dove, Larry McMurtry’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel made famous by the television miniseries many consider the greatest ever (starring Tommy Lee Jones and Robert Duvall). McMurtry’s story follows a group of men on a cattle drive from Mexico to Montana. In many ways, the book is about men, their internal drives or passions, and the friendships they share along the way. This motley group assembled over time, but the core of the group served as Texas Rangers during the days when they fought real battles throughout the region. Through many eventful, often difficult, years together, the men had become “compañeros.”  These relationships weren’t perfect, but they were characterized by intense loyalty, sacrifice, honesty, and memories. Every guy needs relationships like these, but few have them.

As I’ve observed guys who become real compañeros, I’ve discovered four things that create movement toward meaningful relationships: props, plans, risks, and laughs.

GUYS NEED PROPS

Women seem to get together with other women and start talking deeply without effort, but guys aren’t like that. You put them together and all you get is something along the lines of “how’s work?” or “you playing fantasy football again this year?” Those two conversations can fill an entire evening.

In general, guys don’t talk openly and freely without an external prop. It may be a task, a mission, a hobby, a shared history or some other event that brings them together. Men become close on a three-thousand mile cattle drive. They open up during a long winter in the trenches of wartime. They are brought together by an adventurous road trip. It isn’t always something grand. It may be something as simple as a regular hunting trip, a golf foursome or mission trip. It may be group of friends from your college dorm or a church small group. There is not any “magic” prop, but there is almost always some kind of prop that brings the guys together initially.

My group of friends and I came together as friends during college, but those friendships expanded through a college road trip to bury a “time capsule” on the Texas-Mexico border (modeled loosely on the movie, “Fandango”). We each included something of great personal value and a list of spiritual commitments and life goals in the bottle. Ten years later, we returned to dig it up. That event become an annual long weekend together that has become a highlight in our lives.

If you want to find real friends, I suggest you grab a group of guys and initiate some unique activity. In male relationships, activity opens the door for conversation. Men start talking deeply after they’ve worn themselves out, made fun of one another or blown something up in a bonfire.

GUYS NEED PLANS

Past performance does not guarantee future success. Just because some prop brought you together for a unique time of relating as friends, you may not continue in that kind of friendship in the years ahead. Most guys who have not found life-long compañeros reflect on certain friendships with a nostalgic longing to go back, maybe even with a tinge of sadness. They are sweet memories, but they are just that: memories of something good that once was but is now gone. Friends rarely intend to lose touch with one another. If your experiences together are going to grow into deep, lasting relationships, you need to commit to a plan.

With my group, we decided to take an annual trip together. We pick a destination and a date, and we all fly in for a long weekend each year. My “Fandango” trip with this group of 6 men helps me hit my annual laugh quota in single weekend. This takes a real commitment, but it’s worth everything it takes to make it happen. Our wives sacrifice on the home front to allow us to go. We take time off work. We split the costs evenly to make it fair (sometimes, we pick up the tab for one another when finances are tight). This commitment propelled us from being college friends to becoming life-long friends.

The bottom line is that you won’t become compañeros without regular time to laugh, play, and goof off together. This usually takes one person in the group who initiates an ongoing plan for being together and gets a commitment from the group. A plan creates a path for deepening relationships as you journey through the ups and downs of life together.

Most of the time, a particular place or activity becomes a big part of the group’s identity. Guys seem to have a desire for a tradition that makes this time special. As men move from the free-wheeling college years to the responsibility of their 30s and 40s, they need time “away” from the normal routine of life. I’d encourage you to try something that allows for a break from your normal responsibilities and demands some real commitment from one another.

GUYS NEED RISKS

The third element I see is risk. If there is no risk, you will settle into a cycle of conversation that repeats itself over and over without taking you anywhere. Think about your relationships with your father or brother or co-workers for a minute. I bet you could write a script for most those conversations as they revolve around the same topics with each phone call. This is just what guys do. We are strange beings. We privately long for a deeper relationship but we almost never acknowledge it.

Friends must continually take risks by sharing life at a vulnerable level. It amazes me how risky it feels to share what is happening in my heart even with my most trusted friends. We’ve been sharing life together for twenty years, but it still feels threatening to let them see my hurts, my unhealthy desires, my anger, my dreams, and my joys. It also brings freedom. The more I share, the more I’m freed up to be myself around them.

Most groups need a guy with the guts to be honest in front of others. Sometimes, it means saying, “You know what guys? I struggle with ______.” Or, “You know what hacks me off about my life right now? It’s ______.” In our group, it seems to be a different guy who leads out each year with an honest and bold statement about his life. Each time someone opens the door to his heart, I think to myself, “OK, here we go.” It’s become my favorite part of our trip. I find out that I’m not that weird, or maybe that I’m just as weird as everyone else. Somehow, that’s one of the things guys need to know: we are all jacked up. That kind of vulnerable sharing is relational fuel for men. Like a car, you have to refill the vulnerability tank regularly or the friendship runs out of gas.

GUYS NEED LAUGHS

With men, laughter both precedes and follows relational risks. Guys need to laugh, and I’ve found that guys won’t share openly until they have laughed freely. If you want guys to open up, you’d better crack one another up first. Some men don’t know how to laugh. Because of this, people will rarely feel comfortable enough around them to be honest about what’s in their hearts. Be careful sharing too much of yourself with men that can’t laugh. The other side of this is that men who have shared openly laugh even harder. The trust and confidence gained in deep relationships lead to uncontrollable laughs that roll out until they bring tears.

For guys, friendship never happens as spontaneously as we’d like. It takes props, plans and risks, but the investment leads to a kind of laughter that is only shared by true compañeros.

-jdl

masked_rider

As with most of the sports world, I’ve been sucked into the drama that has surrounded the Texas Tech football program over the last week. I won’t drift into sports reporting here, as everyone from the NY to LA is covering it, but as I’ve read several articles over the last few days, I’ve seen some things that made me want to offer a few observations that, though somewhat obvious, are still important reminders.

Leach_PirateOf course, there are the humorous and obvious lessons: Pirates like gold and have authority issues; never get involved in a West Texas turf war with people that idolize a mask-wearing rider of a black horse. Resisting the temptation to comment on coaches who are also lawyers or players with famous daddies, I’ll move on.

Five rambling observations on some things that matter in working relationships…

Trust Matters
Where trust is absent, speculation swirls. Too often, people focus on the external conflict and neglect the internal reality of a relationship. There is a presenting problem: a conflict, a review, a decision, a disagreement. It’s easier to resolve the situation of the presenting problem than it is to reconcile the relationship. However, if the relationship is not restored, there will always be another issue waiting to drive a wedge between those involved. It is important to remember that you must work harder at rebuilding trust than you do at creating formal agreements, structures and contracts.

Culture Matters
Different regions approach life in different ways. If you are going to mix it up, you’d better be willing to deal with the differences. These differences are not insurmountable, but they do require an extra commitment to be flexible and overcome the differences. This is why so many organizations are run by “good ol’ boy” networks – it’s just easier (well, that and the whole power/control thing). Diversity is a good thing and worth pursuing, but it will mean dealing with some misunderstanding and longer conversations to sort things out.

Communication Matters
Email is a bad form of communication. Sure, it serves a great purpose for transferring information in a technological world, but it often leads to misunderstanding. Unless your last name is King, Wolfe, or Rushdie, I’d assume your email won’t communicate what you want it to. If you need to discuss something that deals with emotion, humor, crisis, conflict, or people, don’t lead out with email. That piece of technology to the right of your computer is called a phone. Use it. Try the phone or a personal visit, and then send an email with details or other info as a follow-up.

Humility Matters
Pride isolates and anger divides, but humility connects and unites. Humility has a unique power to overcome differences in opinion, personality and approach. Many people think of humility as a benefit at church but a hindrance in the “real world.” Thoughtful people will recognize that humility and backbone can go together. When they do, strength emerges in a person that can work through differences and not just around them.

Timing Matters
Know when it’s time to go. We don’t like to admit it when things are no longer a good fit. I’m not sure why. Maybe we are still hurt by the sixth grade break-up with blue-eyed Susie. Maybe it feels like weakness when we can’t make things work. Usually, there is enough agreement on the goals that you feel like you ought to be able to work things out, but when things are swirling for months or even years without improvement, you are almost never going to turn the corner. When that’s the case, seek wise counsel to make sure you are seeing things accurately, and then look for an exit ramp that will allow for a healthy and graceful transition.

-jdl