Category Archives: bible reading

Rejoice differently together

My friend Lee is a rejoicer. I used to go to his office when I was needing to be cheered up. He would look up, smile, say my name and welcome me.

So when Paul says, “Rejoice in the Lord always,” those of us who know Lee think that Lee has this one covered. And we think that we don’t have it covered.

“Rejoice” can get translated “be like Lee.”

But when I talked about the conflict between Euodia and Syntyche yesterday, and I mentioned that Paul was going to help us figure out how they might resolve the tension and get back to working together for God, I don’t think the first step is to be like Lee.

That may have been the problem in the first place. Because Lee rejoices in the Lord, but he’s also a happy person. And there are people who rejoice in the Lord and are less outgoingly happy people.  And it’s possible for tension to arise in a clash of personalities.

Like happened when Lee and Michael were on a mission trip together. Lee wakes up smiling. Michael wakes up. I never knew this to be true, but I can imagine Michael quoting Proverbs to Lee one morning: He who blesses his friend with a loud voice early in the morning, It will be reckoned a curse to him.

A way to deal with interpersonal tension is to shift the focus from pleasing or proving each other and turn to finding meaning and identity and satisfaction in the Lord.

Both Lee and Michael did this. In their different ways. And without trying to be each other.

It’s a first step.



Learning to get along.

“I hate when I do that.”

That’s the beginning of a conversation I have all the time. Sometimes in my head. Sometimes with others. You probably know the next sentence.

“But I get exhausted and overwhelmed and then it comes out.”

Or “But I’m so afraid and so I panic.”

Some well-meaning Bible people, including the people inside our heads, say things like, “Rejoice. We’re supposed to rejoice.” Or “Don’t be anxious.” They want to be helpful. But we’re not.

Responding to a mistake with what feels like a judgement or an obligation only makes the mistake feel worse. “I feel upset but Paul says that holy people rejoice. There must be something wrong with me.”

It’s easy to mistake the description of a training process for the giving of the final exam. To read some skills and attitudes that are learned across time, and believe that they should just happen.

Here’s what I mean.

Joan and AprilPaul wrote a letter to some friends in little church in the Roman colony of Philippi. In the letter, he often talks about joy and rejoicing. But what if Paul wasn’t wielding a happy club, bashing people who aren’t? What if, in at least one place, he was talking about how to help two people who were having conflict with each other get back on track?

There were two women in Philippi, Euodia and Syntyche. They were thoughtful, helpful, faithful people. They were important members of the team. But at the moment Paul was writing, they weren’t seeing eye to eye. They weren’t standing shoulder to shoulder. They were a soprano and an alto singing two different songs.

Paul asks them, pleads with them, to sing their parts in the same song. To be in harmony.

And then he gives them some things that will help.

And so will I this week. Up next, “Your voice changes when you smile.”


Joan and April, pictured above, are actually getting along fine. And you can hear the two of them and Terry and I talking about The Self-Aware Leader at

Weekend conversation starters.

May I offer you some questions today, for conversations you may have this weekend?

“I ask him what made him laugh today.” 

I was talking with a friend whose husband teaches in middle school. She said that over dinner she asks him about his day, but with that focus on laughter. For that couple, it’s a brilliant question.

“How is your heart?”

I saw a friend for the first time in five years. We are both pastors. We worked closely for a few years. We’ve been apart. In the conversation in the aisle at Target, after the talk of family and location, he asked the important question, the integrity question.

“What are the most emotionally-charged tasks on my to-do list?”

I asked that of myself the other day, and then made those items be the top 5 things on the list. I was much less stressed by noon.

“What would it be like to talk to people like Zacchaeus the way Jesus did? 

I’m asking that of several people right now. Zacchaeus was a tax-collector who climbed up in a tree to see Jesus. He climbed, Luke says, because he was too short to see over the crowd. He could have run in front, I’m guessing, but the judgment of the crowd would have been obnoxious. I’m curious about planting trees with low branches that would let curious people who want to see Jesus avoid the crowds and criticism.

“How do we explain the basics even better?”

Whatever you are doing, there are things that people just don’t understand. They are simple, to you. They are basic,
to you. But we need to be clearer, more thoughtful, more consistent.

“What are you hiding? Why?”

I’m asking myself that more often thanks to Brene Brown who talks about vulnerability and shame and courage.


First published September 25, 2013.
familyAnd “Happy Birthday” tomorrow, Nancy Swanson!

Not just better together

I help people figure out the next step and how to take it. That’s a way to describe what I do as a chaplain. It’s a way to describe how I approach a couple kinds of consulting I do.

On Wednesday afternoon, I presented the final report in a project completed by the Arbor Research Group. It’s a project that reminded me how much we need each other to accomplish the work that we have in front of us.

On this project Arbor Arborhad people with expertise in statistics, HR, focus groups, editing, leadership, and writing. We had people who could fill in after catastrophe, people working around the world, people with strong minds and deep hearts. Our team offered challenge and encouragement and affirmation to each other.

And none of us could have done this project alone. I discovered that in the middle when I needed clarity and courage and the skills of the rest of the team. They were ready and expecting to do the parts they were equipped to do.

When Paul talks about the body of Christ having different gifts and different capacities and different needs, he’s not trying to create a metaphor. He’s talking about survival. We are invited by Jesus to love each other. We are invited by Jesus to feed people who are hungry and to clothe people who are naked and to give shelter to the homeless.

When we try to figure it all out on our own, we inevitably complicate because we are each massively incompetent about everything we aren’t massively competent in. But when I ask you for help and you ask me for help, we can help. Just like it took four friends to lower a fifth friend in front of Jesus. Compassion plus eye-hand coordination times four got a man healed.

We don’t need each other to feel better. We need each other.

emotional Jesus.

A couple hours after I write this, I’m heading to the hospital. I’ll be walking the halls, talking to staff. I’ll be showing up in the ER about the same time as the person coming from the crash or the person fearing a stroke or the person terrified about the baby that stopped moving. I won’t be visiting four moms I prayed for on Friday, mostly older. All four of them have died since then.

Although you may not watch that much pain in such a short time, you probably know it from the inside.You’ve been the one with the fears and the terror and the questions.

You’ve been the one who says to Jesus, “If you are willing, you can make me clean.” That’s what a man with leprosy said from the ground in front of Jesus. He had fallen there, begging for help.

At the time the man comes to Jesus, Jesus was little more than a rumor, just starting to travel outside his adopted hometown. People had heard he could heal, and they were desperate. Especially this man.

The medical and religious authorities had sent people like him away from people, past the outskirts. Talking was hollering. Touching was impossible. Relationship wasn’t.

And so he comes to Jesus for help.

IMG_2592.JPGAnd Jesus gets emotional. There are scholarly debates about whether he was tearful with compassion or irate at the pain. Either way, he says “I am willing. Be cleansed.”

And the man is cleansed.

But we see many people who aren’t. The women I prayed with, though at least one expressed a readiness to be done, none of them were cleansed, not in this body. Neither was the one who you remember every time you hear about someone else being healed.

I don’t have a quick nor completely satisfying answer to why some and why not others. But I walk away from this story and into the hallways remembering one picture. Jesus getting emotional. Whether he was offering physical or relational or ultimately spiritual healing, Jesus wasn’t detached from the situation.

I’ll be looking for him tonight.


Mark 1:40-45