Don’t get offended.

“I mean this in love and in no way intend this to come across as negative or critical, but…”

Ever have someone start out a conversation this way? Not the easiest statement to hear someone else say to us. Well, don’t feel too bad, it’s only natural to put up an emotional wall, or get verbally defensive when someone we know well confronts us with an issue.

Whether they say it in love or not, or whether it is even well-intended or meant to hurt us, I think we can learn to glean value from any kind of confrontation, rebuke, even attack.

Granted, some verbal attacks are purely worthless and should be discarded immediately. In fact, I sometimes think the reason many of us get defensive when spoken to this way is actually because of a lack of GOOD DEFENSE.

Now hear me, I am not saying that it is good to “get defensive”… not at all. What I propose to you is this: If we have built healthy boundaries (read any book from the amazing series BOUNDARIES by Henry Cloud and John Townsend) in our Circle of Relationships (ask ME for a copy of this helpful tool ), we won’t have to “get defensive” when bombarded, attacked, or lovingly addressed in a proper way.

You see, if you have built healthy DEFENSES ahead of time, you don’t need to GET DEFENSIVE at the spur of the moment!

You can listen to that person, chew any meat they may have given, and spit out the bones. And if someone gives you ALL BONES, well then you can spit the entire mess out and get a good breath mint later!

Jesus didn’t need to get defensive when verbally attacked by his critics, because he already had healthy defenses built before hand.

Some of these defenses relate more to a healthy view of ourselves and a confidence of who God is in us and the fact that if He is for us, we have nothing to fear.

In fact, if you find yourself getting defensive often, that indicates you probably have not built good DEFENSES up in your inner man. And in fact, you may find inside your soul many conflicting sources pulling and pushing you to really fly off the handle emotionally, psychologically, physically.

God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of love, power and a sound mind. (2 Timothy 1:7)

Now I would be a hypocrite to make it sound like I am such a well-adjusted human being that I have never, ever become defensive. The exact opposite scenario is closer to the truth. You see, I found so many unhealthy emotional triggers inside of me when I first started my spiritual journey – I was one of the most defensive people on the planet. I discovered part of the reason had to do with being a very caring person – I was sensitive. But sensitivity without a healthy defense system on the inside will produce a lot of pain. I had to “toughen up” as others say.

But truthfully, it had nothing to do with getting tougher, but with getting fortified with a good set of boundaries and inner foundational truths. It took years and still I am growing in that area even to this day.

I wish I could go into greater detail with this, but if I did, this would not be a blog entry, but a book. And for more detail, you are going to have to wait for THE BOOK – “The Life” ha ha.

So all I can tell you is this – you and I need our source to be God inside of us in order to build healthy defenses on the outside. Then and only then, when the time comes for someone to “share a personal word” with us, we won’t get defensive anymore, but instead, with peace and calmness we can gently listen to the person(s) and filter the information properly with a smile, and even say, “Thank you so much for sharing that with me. I will take it into consideration. Have a great day!”

Sounds easy, of course it is not. But with His Life inside of us, it is more than POSSIBLE!

Until next time,

Jeff Saxton

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Are You Dressed Up?

I remember hearing that phrase over and over every Sunday morning when my mom and dad would get us three boys ready for church.

Like most good church-goers, my family strongly adhered to the popular adage – “look your Sunday best for God.” And we did. Every Sunday, we wore clothes that we would never otherwise wear outside of funerals and weddings.

Well, outside of Sundays we were your typical pre-adolescent boys – pretty much dirty and grimy after a long hard hour or two of kick-ball, swimming, tree climbing, crayfish hunting, sewage tunnel exploring, and of course motocross bicycle riding.

Another common phrase that is heard in many such households on any given Sunday is “you need to dress nicely out of respect for the temple of The Lord! When you are in a God’s house you behave respectfully and dress appropriately.”

So… My adolescent takeaway was this – God only wanted to be around us when we were in His “house”, clean and showered and “dressed appropriately.”

This is how I grew up in my perception of who God was. I saw Him as an out-of- touch, distant Father who only cared about me when I was in His temple looking a certain way on the outside.

Now let me just say, I have no problem with dressing nice in church or being respectful in a house of worship. But I think many people today have the same experience as I have had regarding God and church – Over time a message begins to become ingrained in our minds, even unconsciously, that would evolve into a total misconception of who God is and what He truly cares about.

Juxtaposed to this vision, I also found myself as an adolescent drawn to the lowly child who was born in a stable named Jesus. Jesus seemed to be comfortable associating with the dirty, filthy, lowly people of the world – like me. So much so that the religious leaders of his day condemned him. He showed compassion to those who were regarded as “unclean” and unfit to even walk into the local houses of worship.

This Jesus didn’t seem to dress as nicely as the Pharisees. They had impressive religious garb and looked down on him for not looking as good as they did. And he greeted lepers and other unclean pagans and even hung out with them.

To a God who I was brought up to believe was mostly impressed with people who dressed the best and acted respectfully when in his house, this Jesus wound have and should have deeply offended.

And then the kicker was this – Jesus finally made the most audacious claim hitherto as he boasted to his disciple Philip who asked him to “show us what God is really like” when he replied, “Philip when you have seen me, you have seen the Father. ”

What?

What about dressing up nicely for a God who cared about how nice I looked on the outside? What about the God who wanted me to be quiet and reverent when in His temple?

How can this non- conformist claim to be the very representation of God? He was born so poorly that his crib was filled with straw from a dirty stable! His earthly arrival was so inauspicious that he couldn’t even “get a room”!

This law breaking Rabbi who told everyone to allow their own hearts to be the temple of God – this was not at all the same message I had grown up hearing!

A tension is upon you and I that is quite literally a fork-in-the-road moment: will we continue to follow the ideas of this off-the-wall Jesus, or will we go the other way and keep in the old-school view of a distant God who might give you some attention if you dress up nicely and get into a beautiful house of worship first?

Which way will you go?

Next Sunday when you and I get “dressed up for church” and act reverently, keep in mind our namesake (Jesus Christ) dressed up nicely when it was appropriate to do so , but his lifestyle certainly carried this “respect for God and his house” over to every area of his daily walk – including showing compassion for the dirty and lowly people.

These same people might very well end up sitting in the same pew next to you.

What will you think? What will you do?

As Hamlet claimed, “that – is the question. ”

Until next time,

Jeff

The Secret is Caring

Good Day to you!

It’s kinda nice to have someone give us a nice warm greeting each day, isn’t it?

I once knocked on a door of someone’s home as I was inviting people to a special event at our church, and was quite shocked when the owner of the home opened the door and, before I could say a word, launched into a multi-syllable cuss fest about how much of a “hypocrite you are for walking across the street from your church to talk to me when you could care less about me! You just want to show everyone you are better than them and act like you are so holy!”

This tirade went on for about five minutes, but lasted for an eternity – it seemed to me anyway. The funny thing was, this was decades earlier when our society wasn’t quite as turned off to cold call invitations. But this house was maybe a few hundred feet from our church building. I was totally shocked to hear such negative words directed at my character.

I have since learned to not take this kind of thing personally (I very much recommend a special brand of duck-feather oil – you will live a happier and longer life!)

Anyhoo… yeah, this blew a little wind out of my sails at the time. What shocked me was that this lady had me all wrong. Or did she?

As I considered her words, I realized that she was wrong in that I wasn’t out there to make anyone feel bad, or think i was more holy than they. I was out to merely be used by God to offer eternal hope to people.

At the same time, she was also right – I did NOT care about her personally. I mean, how could I? I had never met her. Sometimes we need to show people we care before we do anything else. This woman had probably been preached to and “evangelized” many times before by well-meaning church people, or others not as well-meaning.

I have learned that I need God’s compassion for others. I have seen that when I show someone care, concern, compassion, they are very open to hearing anything I have to say.

I used to think it was what I KNEW that would change the world. Now I know that it isn’t about what I KNOW, its about how deeply I CARE. True love and compassion has moved many mountains in our world.

Ask God to give you His compassion for others. And then, once you care, ask Him to show you how to show that love and concern.

The secret lies not in KNOWING, the SECRET IS – CARING!

Until Next Time
Jeff

Check out updates for my upcoming book with co-author MIKE STEHR at https://www.facebook.com/GetTheLifeBook


Christmas as Unusual

Christmas is here!

When I think back to previous Christmas Days, several memories come to mind. Of course I enjoy being with family, opening gifts, and eating delicious family dinners. Those are the “usual” activities that happen each year. No, I think it’s those unexpected unusual experiences that are most memorable.

I recall as a young single youth pastor I was once approached by some pretty college ladies in our church who were putting on a special Christmas event. Well, they already had my attention, so I was already going to say yes to almost anything. Somehow they talked me and two other single guys into dressing up like “Alvin & the Chipmunks” and singing AND DANCING a karaoke version of the “Chipmunk Christmas” song.

You have GOT to be kidding me – I actually agreed to do this!

So anyhoo, we practiced with the girl who was the director of the evening. She went through the choreography and song with us a few nights before. I was so embarrassed! How could we have allowed ourselves to do this?

Well, the night we dreaded finally came – and soon we were next on the docket to do our routine on stage – live!

I will never forget the look on my two buddies faces (I think I played Alvin) – There they were in full chipmunk costume, with their faces painted to look like Simon and Theodore, staring at me with this look as if they were saying, “I cant believe we were stupid enough to agree to this nonense!”

The song began and a ROAR of LAUGHTER came from the audience! They soon figured out it was us dressed as the Chipmunks. I wanted to crawl in a hole and stay their for a few months! But as we continued, the crowd started to sing along and cheer and clap and we were now really rockin’ it!

Well we went through the entire song and got alot of laughs and shouts and screams. It wasn’t so bad after all. We were the hit of the night!

Turns out many people remembered that crazy performance for years after that. I have had more people than I would have imagined stop me and tell me about how that memory has really endured in their minds. I don’t know how it became a fond memory instead of a nightmare, but there you have it. I do know, however, that I will never subject myself to a repeat performance this side of heaven!

But I do think of this memory with fondness in spite of it all because I saw how it bonded many people together.

We know that Christmas is supposed to be about giving rather than receiving. But I will never cease to be amazed how often I receive so much more when I do give to others. Sometimes that gift can even be a karaoke version of “The Chipmunk’s Christmas Song” in full costume, or something like it.

And when we give of ourselves to others, we truly let the reason for the season have the spotlight – we give because God first gave to us.

I pray that this Christmas season will be full of opportunities for you to receive as you give!

Merry Christmas!
Jeff

The Two Paths

You know how you are walking or biking down a new trail that you have never been on before and you come to that literal “fork in the road”?

If you are an adventurer like me, this is an exciting moment! “Two choices instead of one! My little adventure just got twice as exciting!”

I remember last year my wife and I were driving around some back roads of a national park, and we kinda got lost.

It was exciting however because we were in the mood to get “lost” even though we had a map and we knew we could find our way back if we needed.

It was fun.

Either path was about the same and generally took you back to the main public roads at a similar point.

Life also has paths. People today say, “There are many paths and they’re all good, they all generally get you to the same location – so what’s the big deal?”

Jesus said there were ultimately only two paths – two ways. With two gates. And he said they couldn’t be more different. (Matthew 7:13-14)

One way is wide and many take that path and it leads to destruction. Then Jesus said the other path is narrow, few take it, and it leads to life.

This Sunday I will be speaking in church at Rochester Assembly about these two paths and how in high school and just after graduation, I underestimated the seducing power of the path of destruction. I also realized some of my friends were going down with me.

I had been spared certain death twice. Also I was literally rescued out of a river as I floated face down in the water after passing out from over-intoxication – and I was selected to drive us home!

Nice!

Home was an hour drive. I got home finally after dropping off my drunk friends and laid in my bed, and squeezed on to the sides for fear I would fly off because my room was spinning about 100 mph! I have yet to find a ride at Disney that can equal the speed of that spinning bed!

I knew I was in trouble. I was depressed and unfulfilled and addicted.

Ultimately God spared me miraculously and in a moment my life was transformed as God met me in the middle of my hopelessness.

Soon after, I found a small group of people who had chosen the narrow path to life as well. For the next several years we were to walk that journey together and see amazing and wonderful things beyond my wildest imaginations.

But I never forget the power and addictive connection that the path of destruction had on my life.

I do not judge those who are caught in that path. It is wide, most people are on it, and it takes a miracle to be set free from it’s grasp!

Until next time!
Jeff

Earning Not to be Heard

Someone mentioned this common Christian cliche’ the other day to a friend as I overheard them discuss how to talk to people who have chosen to live a sinful lifestyle – “Well you know, we got to earn the right to be heard. We can’t just go up to people and bombard them with our opinions about the sins of other people.”

It may be a cliche’ but I like it nonetheless.

I’m not going to waste your time or mine to get into details of what was meant by the comment “sinful lifestyle” because that could include the pastor down the street that lives an honest life in certain areas of his personal life yet extorts money from his flock.

A person struggling with sin in any area is technically living a “sinful lifestyle”. I’m so glad no one from church came up to me in high school and confronted me in a judgmental manner about my sinful lifestyle.

The thing is, I certainly was living a sinful lifestyle. I was convicted every Sunday about my alcoholic partying and wild adventures that involved trouble with the law. But in order to tell me about my sinful lifestyle, you need to earn that access. That’s a social rule – people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Another cliche’ that I like.

So next time you see that sinner on the street or in the office or on the bus, take those stones you hold in your hand and drop them on the ground. When you have that sinner’s attention, ask them how their day is going, and really listen to their answer. then, if you must speak about sin, tell them about the worst sinner you ever met – you!

I’m joking – a little bit. Sort of.

When people see we have let go of the angry stones and picked up a wooden cross, they will be drawn to the love of Jesus and finally, want to hear what we have to say- which should mostly be about God’s amazing love and grace who saved a wretch like you and me!

Until next time!

Jeff

A Loyal Friend

Let’s be honest – loyalty isn’t exactly considered to be the unpardonable
sin in 21st century America. It would seem that people value and promote
occasional calculated acts of disloyalty as needed for, say… a job
promotion, a romantic interest, getting an “in” with a higher social group –
even in the church community.

There seems to be a disconnect in the minds of many “Christians” who claim
to love God and yet wouldn’t think twice about betraying a close friend.
Disloyalty is even considered a “moral” in and of itself – if it leads to a
so-called “greater good.”

It seems way too easy to betray another person. All you have to do is open
your mouth and talk. Proverbs 16:28 says, “A perverse man stirs up dissension,
and a gossip separates close friends.”

The Bible clearly condemns stirring up dissension through gossip or any other
means. The fact is, Proverbs says anyone who would do this is a perverse
person.

Truth be told, it is hard not to betray others. It’s easy to be disloyal. It
takes effort to remain loyal – especially when you may have a good excuse for
not remaining loyal. We have all been guilty of hanging with close friends
and then suddenly finding ourselves running the gossip train all night long.
It feels good, it makes us happy about ourselves, and let’s face it, talking
about others can be hilarious – in the “right” company.

A great friend sees you at your worst, and still thinks the best of you.  If
we look down on someone for whatever reason, we have just entered the
hypocrite zone – a place we dare not enter, and a place once entered that is
nearly impossible to ever leave without a serious reality check and a deep
work of spiritual contrition.

Next blog entry – I will continue with A LOYAL FRIEND –  PART II

In or Out?

Are you IN or OUT?

What I mean to ask is, are you in the “in” crowd or the “out” crowd? If you answered “in crowd”, then you might want to re-adjust your focus and priorities. If you answered “out crowd”, ironically you may also need to re-adjust your priorities.

Have you noticed that cliques and certain social groups kind of naturally “pop up” in church? This is sad, but inevitable of course. I think most visitors today feel comfortable in churches where this kind of “vibe” is kept at a minimum.

But if you are trying to be part of the “in” crowd, what does that really mean? There is a balance of being open and vulnerable and wanting to have fellowship with God’s family, and yet also not wanting to create a closed social group that basically looks down on other people for not being “good enough” or “cool enough” or “spiritual enough”. I have found that whatever the variety of the clique, it ultimately becomes a negative and dangerous element within the life of a church.

Jesus said, “Watch out for the leaven of the Pharisees!” (Luke 12:1) His disciples didn’t get it. But Jesus saw them begin to compete with each other and desire to be greater than each other. Jesus lifted up a little toddler and told everyone that “if you want to be great, you must become like this little child.” (Matthew 18:3)

At the end of the day, Jesus is not at all impressed with how stylish and put together you appear on the outside – he cares about your humility and purity of heart on the inside. Hypocrisy is that leaven that Jesus warned about.

It is hypocrisy to think you are “better” than anyone. God knows your heart. We are all the same at the foot of the cross. And we need to live that way if we are to avoid becoming leaven – which is like a really bad infection. Is that how you want to appear before God and all the hosts of heaven today? You want to look like puss is oozing out from within you? Yuck!

Here is a sure-fire way to tell when you are becoming part of a badly infected clique – if anyone in that clique tells you who you should hang out with, and who you should not, it’s time to run!

If you are part of a group that consistently invites only certain people, and at the suggestion of inviting someone new or different (not including someone who would of course actually be unhealthy to relate with) , you sense a negative reaction from them, it is time to find a new group ASAP. Whatever the social motivations, be sure that they are not motivated to be like Jesus. Because Jesus was the opposite of exclusive and pompous.

Jesus would leave that group, go hang out with that person, and begin inviting other people to hang with that rejected person.

We all KNOW that is what Jesus would do. But then why do we find these other desires inside of us that want to be part of a “higher class” of people?

I watch “THE HOUSEWIVES OF————” from time to time, I will admit. But they are pitiful to watch. They constantly ooze jealously and envy and pompousness. They always let us all know how great their social groups are and how this makes them more impressive as individuals. And then they tear apart one another on live Television with the most petty and immature behavior that you might ever see on TV.

Is that how you and I want to appear on God’s TV in heaven? We are surrounded by a GREAT CLOUD of witnesses! (Hebrews 12:1)

Guess what, you are in the biggest REALITY PERFORMANCE ever! And you have a wide audience, including the only important viewer – GOD!

I hope you and I can continue to keep relevant in our outward appearances, but within that we must keep our hearts humble and not simply hang with the “in” crowd.

After all, our Savior didn’t fit with the “in” crowd (Pharisees) of his day, and was rejected by them repeatedly and eternally.

Too bad for them.

iBillboard

2000 years ago, Jesus didn’t have the luxury of employing a public relations firm to help market his brand.

But can’t you just imagine if he did?

I can just see Andrew leading the way as the Twelve members of Christ’s entourage come walking into a top ad agency’s stylish boardroom with glass walls and multi-media screens. Wouldn’t it be hilarious to see the disciples dressed in snappy formal attire, carrying iPads and iPhones?

And of course, Peter would interrupt his younger brother Andrew and open the meeting. “All right, all right! Let’s get this party started! What can you do for our leader? He needs a new mission statement and maybe a good logo. What about a TV commercial?”

Of course, there would be one stick-in-the-mud detractor – Judas. “Hold on a second, big guy! We ‘re not going to talk about anything until we first look at our budget. And I would say, we are not exactly in the black, if you know what I mean.”

As we know, Jesus did not choose to market his message, as the world usually does. He did not hire an ad agency nor did he employ the services of public relations experts. He chose not to put up posters and billboards to advertise his cause.

Jesus was prepared to “go public” with his message in a personal and self-less way. He did everything out of a heart of love and compassion.

We can be true representatives of God in this moment and time by simply allowing Christ to love others through us. When we show the world our God is full of compassion, they will listen to our message and watch our lives.

They will take note of us just like a billboard on the side of a busy highway. We will be lights – set high on a hill, shining his light to all.

That’s just good advertising from God’s point of view.

Until next time!