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Blessing Janet (and Others in Your Life)

In their book The Critical Journey, Robert A. Guelich and our beloved Janet O. Hagberg write, “Those who have been through this stage (The Journey Inward Stage) themselves and may be specially trained in spiritual direction, spiritual formation, or pastoral counseling are unique people and are to be sought out.”

In 2004 that is exactly what I did. I sought out Janet Hagberg. I wanted to learn from her wisdom, her experiences and her heart. And she responded. I met with her and a friendship was born. Over the last 12 years, Janet has been a tremendous source of encouragement and inspiration. She models the relationship with God I want to have. She has served as a mentor and guide through a transformational way of living. And my guess is she has done the same for you in some way…through this blog, her website (http://www.janethagberg.com/), her books, her teaching, her ministry or through her everyday way of life.

This is my last blog entry for At River’s Edge, so I want to take the opportunity to invite any of you who has been blessed by Janet to return the favor and send her a blessing. The best way to do this is through her website: http://www.janethagberg.com/contact.html. Let her know what it is you appreciate about her or her ministry.

I’ll go first:

Janet,

I appreciate your willingness to help people grow and heal. I appreciate the way you not only listen to God, but surrender to His voice. I appreciate the way you live simply and modestly which opens you up to God even more. I appreciate your listening ears. And I appreciate your friendship and encouragement.

 

Speaking of blessings…

Is it more difficult for you to give a blessing or receive a blessing? Here is what I have noticed about myself when it comes to blessings:

  • It is more difficult for me to receive blessings than to give them. Receiving a blessing has been an area of growth for me. The more I see myself as being loved by God, the more I am able to receive blessings from God and others.
  • Sometimes it is difficult for me to give blessings verbally especially if I think the person is “fishing” for a compliment or acknowledgement in some way.
  • Giving a blessing verbally can feel vulnerable for me.
  • I am much better at giving blessings in written form through cards, emails and text messages than through verbally speaking them. For me it feels safer and the words I write are more thought out and meaningful.

My wife and I used to read to our kids each night from a book of blessings called Bless your Children Every Day by Dr. Mary Ruth Swope. It is full of simple blessings to read over your kids in areas such as courage, abundance, abilities, a free spirit, humility, and much, much more. Our kids ate it up! They craved the times we read from the book. And after a while, my wife and I started making up our own personal blessings for the kids. I highly recommend this practice for parents.

The most common “mistake” made when giving a blessing is when the blessing is limited to praise for accomplishments, achievements and a job well done. It is more important to praise someone (anyone, not just your kids) for WHO they are, not for what they DO. The easiest way to do this is to think of character traits you see in the other person. If you are like me, it helps to have a cheat sheet. Character First is a curriculum that teaches on 49 different character traits. So here is what I do: I cheat. I look at the list of 49 character traits and pick a couple or a few (sometimes I may only see one) from the list that I see in that person. Click here to see the list and definitions: http://www.characterfirst.com/assets/CFDefinitions.pdf

So now I encourage you to practice giving a blessing. Give a blessing to Janet. Give a blessing to your loved ones, Give a blessing to your friends.

In fact, I dare you to try an experiment!

The Experiment

  1. Select one person to bless this week.
  2. Look at the list of 49 traits and pick 3 traits that are exhibited in the person you selected.
  3. Choose a way to deliver the blessing: speaking it verbally; writing it in a card, a note, an email or a text.
  4. Start the blessing by saying, “I appreciate you because you are ___________________.”
  5. Notice what goes on inside your heart after giving the blessing.
  6. Notice how the relationship with that person changes over the next few days or weeks after giving the blessing.

I pray that this exercise is a powerful experience for you.

Barry Thomas

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On God’s Mind

In his book Surrender to Love, David Benner opens the first chapter with a simple exercise. He invites his readers to do this: “Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?” What a great question! Simple, yet deep and thought provoking. A person’s response to this exercise is very telling. My experience has been that the word that comes to mind for most people is the word: disappointment. The first reaction of most people is that God is disappointed with them. I believe most people know intellectually that God loves them. Their head tells them God loves them, but their reaction says something different. Our behavior and emotions point to what the heart truly believes. Why is that? Why is there a difference in beliefs between our heads and our hearts?

In John chapter 8, Jesus has some very strong words to say about Satan. Jesus says Satan is a liar and calls him “the father of lies.” Jesus also says that lies are Satan’s native language. Satan uses lies to get a person’s heart to believe something different than what their head is telling them. And he is really, really good at it. Most of the time these lies come in the form of messages that play in our heads: “You’re not good enough”; “You don’t have what it takes”; “You’re not lovable”; “You are bad”; “You are ugly”; “You are stupid”; You fill in the blank: “You are___________”. When a person believes lies such as these, it is difficult for he or she to believe that God’s love and grace is for them (which is another lie Satan gets us to believe).

So what about you? What is your response when you imagine God thinking about you? If the answer is something other than love and delight, then there is some work to do. In order to grow spiritually, most of us Christians need to do some work around the lies we believe: lies we believe about ourselves, about others and about God.

 

Reflection:

Imagine God thinking about you. What do you assume God feels when you come to mind?

What are some of the negative messages that play in your head about you? About God?

What is something that is true about you (that counter acts the negative message)?

How would your life be different if you were to see yourself the way God sees you?

 

 

 

 

 

How Much is Enough?

 

Several years ago I was sitting on a bench in front of one of Minnesota’s ten thousand lakes. This one particular lake sits on the campus of Bethel Seminary in St. Paul. While sitting there I heard God ask me, “How much of my love is enough for you?” I had never thought of that question before. I had thought of God’s love being unending, but I had not thought about how much of that love I needed or wanted? How much of God’s love is needed for me to be satisfied? How much would be enough? I had never tried to actually quantify it before.

 

(Caution: Nerd Alert. Don’t judge.) I then thought, “What if God’s love for me was the volume of this lake?” Now most of the lakes in Minnesota aren’t very big and this one was probably about 60 acres in size (It’s actually 64.5 acres, but I don’t want to come across as too nerdy.). So I looked up the size of the lake on a map and calculated the volume of the lake by estimating an average depth. (Yes, I actually did this.) Next, I estimated the volume of my body. (Yes, I actually did this.) I then asked, “If God’s loved refilled my body every day, how long would it take to drain this lake?” (Yes, I actually asked this.) After doing the calculations, the answer was an astonishing 1,170,675 days! That is 3,207 years! Here is this small lake on a collage campus in Minnesota and it’s only one of ten thousand lakes in the state and it would take over one million days to drain it.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for me if His love refilled me every single day? It is definitely less than the volume of that one small lake. God was telling me and showing me that His love for me was more than enough. There is more love available to me and for than I can imagine.

 

If you could get better at one thing this year what would it be? Would it be something physical like losing weight, exercising, eating healthier, running faster or running farther? Would it be something mental like reading, meditating or problem solving? What about something emotional like connecting, listening, enjoying? What do you want to be better at?

 

For me, it would be to be able to receive God’s love in greater measure. If I was able to do this one thing, it would affect all areas of my life. I imagine I would have more confidence instead of insecurity; peace instead of fear; compassion instead of criticism and joy instead of anger. Overall, I would be able to see myself more of the way God sees me and be able to love others better.

 

How much of God’s love is enough for you?

 

Ephesians 3: 17b-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

 

 

 

 

 

The Anti-Resolution

By Barry A.Thomas

 

Since it’s the beginning of a new year, it would naturally be a good time to talk about New Year’s resolutions. What do you want to accomplish in 2016? How do you want to change? However, there is part of me that wants to not talk about New Year’s resolutions since that might be what is expected. So today I’m going to lean into that part.

Don’t get me wrong, I like setting resolutions. I don’t do it every year, but there are times when I need resolutions to keep me from wandering aimlessly. In 2015 I had three resolutions for the year: to read through the Bible, to run a marathon (my first and only) and to write a book. I was able to get two and half of these done. (I won’t bore you with the details.) My point is that without making them goals, I would not have even attempted them, much less accomplish any of them.

And then sometimes resolutions get in my way. They get in the way in a couple of ways:

  1. Resolutions get in the way when I leave God out of the picture. I can leave God out of the picture when I resolve to do something purely out of my own will and power. I can also leave God out when my resolve does not allow my plans to adjust to God’s plans. For instance, I had a friend who was training for the Boston marathon this past year. At the same time, it was his son’s senior year playing baseball. He missed much of his son’s games because he stuck to his training regimen. In my opinion, the resolution got in the way of more important things.
  2. Resolutions get in the way when I depend on accomplishing something to feel good about myself. Personally, I have difficulty with this one. I’m a do-er. That can be a good thing. Being a do-er has served me very well over the years. It has helped me be successful in my career and in my ministry. And I believe that our weaknesses often times are our strengths that are out of balance. This is a huge principle! It’s so important that I’m going to say it again for emphasis: Our weaknesses are often times our strengths that are out of balance.* This doing thing is one of those areas for me because the doing gets in the way of the being. I am reminded of the story of Martha and Mary in Luke 10. Martha was doing hospitality and serving Jesus in her home and it was the doing that kept her from sitting at Jesus’ feet and listening to what He had to say.

In light of all this being said, here is my encouragement to you: make resolutions (if you’re into that kind of thing), hold your resolutions loosely and be with God in the process. So I am making a New Year’s resolution for 2016: to be with God. I want to learn how to do this better (pun intended). I want to be with God in the busyness and I want to create space in my life so I can be with God in solitude.

So here is the question I really want to ask: Can you be okay with yourself if you don’t accomplish anything or if you don’t change a single thing about yourself in 2016? How do you imagine God would feel about you if you that happened (or didn’t happen)?

 

 

*Here is an example of a weakness being a strength that is out of balance: My wife and I are both analytical. When making a decision, especially big decisions, we gather as much data as possible and list out all the options and do our best to asses which option is the best one. This analytical process has served us well throughout our marriage. However, this strength becomes a weakness when it is out of balance. When the analytical part is too strong it becomes indecisiveness. The desire to make the absolute best decision gets in the way of making a decision. The weakness (indecisiveness) is a strength (analytical decision making) that is out of balance.

Sweet Surrender

by Barry A. Thomas

 

In the first statement of the first chapter of the book Follow Me, Jan David Hettinga writes: “The ultimate issue in the universe is leadership. Who you follow and what directs your life, is the single most important thing about you.” In the book he describes the tension between living in the Kingdom of Self and living in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is not a reference to a place with territory and boundaries. The Kingdom of God is referencing the reign of God – God’s lordship.

Often times the Kingdom of Self is the chief competitor to the Kingdom of God. Yes, there are times some external evil is the main problem, but most often it is us. I am what gets in the way of God fully reigning in my life. Jesus taught that a person cannot serve two masters. A person must let go of the Kingdom of Self in order to fully experience the Kingdom of God. The key word that best describes this process is: SURRENDER.

It is impossible to experience the Kingdom of God without surrender. I must let go of me: the things I cling to for value, significance and identity. Jesus showed an example of what surrender looks like when He prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane the night before He was crucified. Three different times He asked God to take away the responsibility of dying on the cross AND each time Jesus said, “Not my will, but yours be done.” He surrendered His own will (and body) in order for the reign of God to be fully present in Him and in this world.

The Locked Door

Several years ago I had a dream or a vision or a mental picture (whatever you want to call it) that had a major impact on my life. I pictured myself walking with God down a long narrow hallway with several doors on each side. We squared up in front of one of the doors. God tried to open the doors, but it was locked. I looked up and read the sign on the door. It said “Career.” For the first time in my life I realized that my career was off limits to God.

Up to that point, God had blessed me with a good career working for a good company. I had always rationalized my job by saying, “God has blessed me through this career and because of it I will be a blessing to others”. And I was. I gave to church, I helped support missionaries and I had financially helped under-resourced people. What I did not realize was a fear that was running in the back of my mind – a fear that God would take it away. So after saying “God you have blessed me through this career so I am blessing others.” I would mentally whisper to myself, “So don’t mess with it.”

Through this picture of a locked door, God was making it clear that I had not surrendered my career to His lordship. Now He wanted the key and He wanted control of that part of my life. So I gave Him the key. I surrendered my career over to God. I didn’t know what the implications would be, but I didn’t want anything to be off limits to Him. Except for my baptism, it was the most meaningful act of surrender in my life.

The Surrendering Process

The surrendering process involves three simple steps:

  1. Surrender everything you have to God – everything.
  2. Listen to what God has to say about it.
  3. Do whatever God says.

Very simple, but not easy. Maybe surrendering everything feels too overwhelming. If so, take surrendering one step at a time and start with one area of your life, or one decision or one day. Journaling has not been one of my strongest disciplines, but for a period of time when I did journal I would start out every entry with this simple prayer: “Dear God, You are Lord of my life, every part of it. I will follow wherever You lead.” There were some days those words were hard to write, but it was important for me to surrender one day at a time.

There are two primary movements to surrendering. The first movement is letting go of something – letting go of self, letting go of control, letting go of a dream, letting go of what I cling to for worth and significance. The second movement is submission to something – trust, faith, God’s promises, God’s love. Letting go of the Kingdom of Self and submitting to the reign and Kingdom of God.

Often times surrendering involves not knowing the outcome. When I gave God the key to the locked door labeled “Career”, I did not know what the implications were. Was God going to ask me to stay on my career path or instead ask me to sell all my possessions and go live in a grass hut in Africa? I had no idea what was going to happen.

Grief and Surrender

Last week in my blog post I talked about embracing the grief process, what grieving has looked like for me and some of the lessons I have learned along the way. The graphic below illustrates what stages of grief look like.

(Sorry graphic did not transfer). It is a large V shape with words describing the various ways grief is expressed, getting darker and harder as one goes down into the V and then lighter as the grief is embraced to reveal wholeness.

 

Here is the Big Idea: The surrendering process is a grief process. When a person surrenders, he or she will most likely go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, fear, isolation, new strengths, new patterns and hope. Surrendering is a process of letting go of control and giving that control over to God. Grieving is the stages of emotions one experiences after any kind of loss. Both of them are processes of letting go of the old before experiencing the new or even knowing what the new looks like.

 

Here’s the next Big Idea: The surrendering process is a death, burial and resurrection. It is a letting go of the old even before I know what the new may look like. Going back to my locked door vision, I was afraid of what would happen once I gave God the key to that door. I didn’t know if God would go in the room and simply look around or if He would go in the room and remodel the place. In the middle of the process I felt disoriented, confused and depressed.

Here’s the last Big Idea: The surrendering process is a transformation process. This surrendering business is not just a one-time conversion experience. For Christ followers, surrender is a way of life. In Luke 9:23 Jesus says, “And He was saying to them all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.” As Christ followers we are called to die to ourselves. Galatians 2:20 says, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.” Surrendering is be a rhythm of life for those living under the reign of God.

The Rest of the Story

Within a couple of months of giving God the key that day, I considered making a career change into full-time ministry. There is no way it would have been an option as long as that door was locked. Within five months God opened up an opportunity for me to make that change. Many people have asked if it was difficult to make the change from an engineering career to full-time ministry. I tell them the change was actually easy. God made it clear this was the direction He wanted me to go. The difficult part was surrendering – giving God the key that day. Once that was done, the rest was easy.

 

And because I gave God the key that day, I have been blessed in immeasurable ways. I would not have experienced Kingdom living as fully as I have if I hadn’t surrendered. I agree with Hettinga’s declaration: leadership is the ultimate issue. I believe surrendering is the secret to living in the Kingdom of God.

 

 

What do you have difficulty giving up control of in your life?

Is there an area in your life that is not submitted to the Lordship of Jesus?

What step can you take to begin to surrender that part to Jesus?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Good Grief

by Barry A. Thomas

 

2005 sucked. There is not a much better way to describe my experience of that year. In the beginning of that year I was leading a small group and using the book The Emotionally Healthy Church by Pete Scazerro as curriculum. When we got to the chapter titled “Embracing Grieving and Loss”, I told the group, “I don’t think I know how to grieve, much less embrace it.” Within a few weeks of saying those ill-fated words, I was hit with a series of losses: my dad was diagnosed with cancer, I resigned from serving in a ministry I loved and my spiritual mentor moved away to another state. It felt like big parts of my world were falling apart. This happened during a period in my life when I was doing some intensive soul work. Before this period I would have stuffed my emotions, stayed busy and got on with my life. I would stay calm and carry on (as the Brits say). But not this time. For the first time in my life I was learning to pay attention to my heart, so for the first time in my life I gave myself permission to be sad. I didn’t try to hide it or deny it, I simply allowed myself to feel the sadness. This may not seem like much, but for me it was a huge step. I didn’t try to make myself sad; I simply acknowledged the sadness that was there and created space in my calendar to experience it.

So here is what grieving looked like for me:

First, I blocked off time in my calendar for solitude – time to simply get away to think, feel and be with God. This too was a new area of growth for me. I’m a “do-er” and have a difficult time being a “be-er”. Often times I would (and still do) approach a time of solitude asking, “How do I do solitude?” I was nervous at first. I wanted to “do” solitude right. It got easier and I got more comfortable the more times I practiced. I took whole days of solitude several different times. I read. I journaled. I prayed. I slept. The solitude gave my heart the space it needed to feel the sadness, anger and confusion of the grieving process.

Second, a friend of mine recommend I read a book by Sue Monk Kidd called When the Heart Waits. In it the author uses the analogy of a cocoon, the transformation phase between a caterpillar and a butterfly, to describe the dark and unknown experience of grief. She explains what it looks like and feels like to go through times of darkness. God used this book to tell me that what I was feeling was normal and that there wasn’t anything wrong with me. This was huge. Without reading this, I would have been full of fear. Instead I was able to okay with grief. I didn’t like it. It was not enjoyable, but somehow, deep down, I knew what I was going through was good.

Third, I was given the opportunity to get angry. This was a big deal for me because I usually stuffed anger. I have learned that if anger doesn’t get expressed in healthy ways, it will get expressed in unhealthy ways. I had some men teach me how to express anger in a healthy way and gave me the opportunity to let it rip in a safe, controlled environment. This was the lynch pin for me. By letting the anger flow I believe it propelled me through the grief cycle.

So that’s what it looked like for me. Eight months from the time I told my group that I didn’t know how to grieve, I had taken one full trip around the block.

 

So here are some of the things I gave earned about grief over the years:

  1. Any kind of loss is meant to be grieved. Obviously, the loss of a close friend or loved one is meant to be grieved; however, less obvious losses are meant to be grieved too. Losses that are not so obvious can be: a change in job; a change in season of life; loss of health; or a change in a relationship. In fact, any kind of change brings some sort of loss.
  2. The amount of grief to be experienced is proportional to the depth of the loss. Big loss – big grief. Small loss – small grief.
  3. People grieve differently. Some are very open about it; others are very private. Some need support; others need space. There is not some recipe book or formula on how to handle grief. It looks different for different people. I have seen several sets of parents who have lost a child. Most of the time, the mother and father have grieved the death in completely different ways. Friction can occur when one spouse expects the other to grieve the loss the same way. Perhaps this is why the divorce rate for parents who have lost a child is near 80%.
  4. Grief is experienced in stages. Depending on who you read, there are anywhere from 3 stages to 12 stages in the grieving process. If you were to ask ten different counselors to label the stages of grief, you would probably get twelve different answers. However, the stages look something like this: denial, anger, sadness, despair, confusion, void, hope, imagination, action and order.

The first benefit of embracing grieving and loss is that I have experienced God’s love and favor in new ways. I know what it is like for Him to walk with me through dark times and to have peace in the process. The second benefit is that I have much more compassion for other people. I am able to mourn with those who mourn. There is no doubt my heart has become more alive.

Yes, 2005 sucked. And because it did I grew by leaps and bounds. I now see grief as a good thing and my life and relationships are much richer as a result.

 

 

 

What are some of the losses you have experienced recently?

Which loss feels like the biggest one on the list?

What emotion are you feeling in regards to that loss? Anger? Sadness? Fear?

The Big 3 and the Singing Test

by Barry A. Thomas

One of the amazing times in my life was when I transitioned from my engineering career and to a career in full-time ministry. I literally left my engineering job on a Friday in Houston, drove my family to Oklahoma City on Saturday and began my ministry job on staff at a church on Sunday. God’s direction in my life has never been as clear and as pronounced as it was during that time. There is so much I could write about this period, but it is too much to put into blog form.

However, this process of changing careers did not just happen over one weekend. The move was the culmination of a year or so of soul searching. Let me be clear: going into vocational ministry was not part of my career plan. When asked, “Where do you see yourself in five years?” the answer was not “working on staff at a church somewhere.” God worked through a process of introspection and wrestling. I have learned that when I go through these times He is often preparing me for the next phase of my life.

Unfulfilled and Discontent

In my sixth year of working for my company, I began to get the corporate “seven-year itch.” I had moved around in the company and had a worked in different facets of my engineering discipline. I had had some good job assignments and responsibilities in the company and was able to work with a lot of great people. At the time I was working in the corporate headquarters. A big part of the job was making weekly presentations to management getting approval for capital projects. Although I could play the corporate game, it was not my favorite thing to do. I preferred wearing blue jeans and getting out in the field over wearing a tie and sitting behind a computer.

The fact is I was very blessed and I did not lose sight of this. I was not going through a phase of being a disgruntled employee. I was not playing the part of a victim. I simply was becoming uninterested in my job.

And then the wrestling began…

I began to ask myself why I was not fulfilled in what I was doing. Was it my current job responsibilities? Was it the corporate environment of headquarters? Was it the company? Was it the oilfield? Was it engineering as a career? Was it me…was there something wrong with me? These questions rolled around in my head for several months. For the first time in my young life I was open to a career change.

The Big 3

All of these questions led to more specific questions. I call them the Big 3. I believed that the answers to these questions would probably converge on the same thing. They would point in the same direction. In the athletic arena, I knew the sports I enjoyed the most were the sports in which I excelled. And I excelled at the sports I was most passionate about. At least for me, these things were undoubtedly linked. I thought, “If that was true for me in sports, it must be true for me in other areas in my life including my career.” These were the new questions I mulled over for a while. Here are the Big 3:

  • What do I enjoy?
  • What am I good at?
  • What do I have a passion for?

I don’t know about you, but I tend to enjoy the things I am good at and I tend to dislike the things I am not good at. For instance, I hate Do It Yourself home projects. (I know hate is a strong word, but it best fits my sentiment in this case.) I hate them because I am terrible at fixing things around the house. My average project requires four trips to the hardware store. Trip #1: Purchase the materials I think I need for the job. Trip #2: Return an item from the first trip and get the correct item for the job. Trip #3: Purchase a different item to replace the one I broke fixing the original broken item. Trip #4: Purchase more materials because the job was bigger than I first expected. This four trip thing is no exaggeration. This has been a repetitive and definitive pattern in my adult life. I must say, the job eventually gets done and I am proud of the work when it is done, but it was not a process that was effortless and enjoyable.

The Singing Test

When I considered what it is I enjoy doing, a simple pattern caught my attention. I loved to sing (and still do). Often times during any given day I would just start humming or singing a tune. When I would catch myself singing, I began to notice when I would sing. I would ask myself, “Why would I break out in song? What caused me to want to sing?” I realized that I would sing when I experienced joy. That was it! I was singing because I was full of joy. I call it the Singing Test. Now all I had to do is figure out what happened right before I started singing.

The Singing Test worked. When I caught myself singing I would rewind the tape and take note of what just happened before the singing. These were the things that brought joy to my life. Was there a pattern to the things that made me sing? Were these also things that I had a passion for? Were these also the things I was good at? The answer was yes!

For me, the Big 3 converge on one central theme: helping people. I loved to help people and to make a difference in people’s lives. Anytime I felt like I was helping someone with any little thing, I broke out into a song. Sometimes it was mowing someone’s yard; sometimes it was getting someone a cool glass of water; other times it was inviting new friends over for dinner; making a caring phone call; answering someone’s question; sharing a funny story or lending listening ear. Regardless of form or fashion, I loved to help people. As simple as it seems, the Singing Test was a real breakthrough for me. It helped me converge on the answer to the Big 3.

Maybe the Singing Test does not fit for you. But here is my question: What do you do when you experience joy? How do you express it? For you, that is your Singing Test.

Parenthetically, let me just add here: The answers to the Big 3 and the Singing Test do not just apply to your career. I think more importantly, they can point you to your mission and purpose in life. Your job does not necessarily have to line up with your mission and purpose. It is possible to live out of mission no matter what you do from nine to five. (BTW, who really works nine to five these days?) Since that time in my life, I have learned to get fulfillment in life independent of what I do to make a living.

  • What are your answers to the Big 3?
  • Do they converge on anything in particular?
  • How do you express joy?
  • Is there a connection to the answer to these questions and God’s calling on your life?

If you do not have clear answers to these right away, do not fret. These are not easy questions to answer. They are simple, but not easy. I encourage you to wrestle with these questions understanding that answering them is a process that takes time.

Loving Yourself in 4 Hard Steps (Part 2 of 2)

By Barry Thomas

In last week’s blog post I began talking about how to love yourself by focusing on the parts of yourself you hide and deny. I presented the first two steps in the process: AWARENESS and ACCEPTANCE. (If you didn’t see it, read last week’s post for an explanation of what I mean). So now I’m going to pick up from where I left off.

How is a person to respond when he becomes aware of a part of himself he has hidden or denied and accepts that that part is truly part of him? After all, that part was hidden for a reason. What do you do when you bring it out in to the light?

The next step in loving yourself is FORGIVENESS. When I think of forgiveness, I imagine forgiveness moving in three directions:

The first direction is forgiveness moving from God to us. If there was enough space in this post, we could walk through the Bible and see how forgiveness is a major theme throughout Scripture. In Exodus 34: 6 and 7, God describes Himself as compassionate, gracious and forgiving. And Hebrews 10:11-18 describes how Jesus’ death was the ultimate sacrifice for our forgiveness.

The second direction of forgiveness is from us to others. In Matthew 6:14, Jesus teaches. “If you forgive men when they sin against you, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you.”

The third direction of forgiveness is from us to…ourselves. For many people, this is the most difficult form of forgiveness. It is hard to believe that forgiveness is really free, so we punish ourselves. In his book, Gateways to God, Dmitri Bilgere writes about the “Mercy Exception.” The Mercy Exception is when you believe there is some part of you that is too terrible for God to love; and therefore, is an exception to God’s mercy. Here is what I have learned: we all have them. We all have mercy exceptions and they tend to be the parts or ourselves we don’t like.

So which comes first, being able to receive forgiveness from myself or forgiveness from God? I think it depends on the person, but my observation is that most people have a more difficult time forgiving themselves. The most transformational ministry I have ever been a part of is The Crucible Project (www.thecrucibleproject.org). A key part of this ministry is conducting men’s retreats. I help lead a few of these each year. Recently a pastor named Jim participated in one of these weekends. The very next Sunday after he went on a Crucible Project weekend he shared with his congregation about the forgiveness he was able to receive from himself on the retreat. He explained to the church how he and God were fine. He already received forgiveness from God, but he hadn’t received it from himself. He said, “I decided to let myself off of the mat. I am good enough. I do have what it takes. Does anyone else here need to let yourself off the mat?” Jim had been living with a Mercy Exception. He decided it was a horrible way to live and it was time live differently.

Why is forgiveness needed? When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, I believe a lie from Satan instead of a truth from God. When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, those parts are blocked off to God’s love. When I believe parts of me I don’t like are Mercy Exceptions, I do not become the man God has created me to be.

The final step in loving yourself is… (surprise!)…LOVE. Once I’ve become aware of the parts of myself I don’t like and have accepted that they are truly part of me and have received forgiveness for keeping them hidden, then those parts can be open to be loved.

We, as humans, have a high propensity to adapt, cope and survive. One of the key ways we adapt, cope or survive is by hiding. In his book, Hiding From Love, Dr. John Townsend breaks down the different ways people hide internally and relationally. For most of us, these hiding mechanisms were put in place early on in our lives and most of the time, they were needed for protection. One of the problems is that we typically no longer need these ways of hiding as adults, yet we keep them in our lives because they had served us so well. Often times the hiding that served us so well is the very thing that keeps that part of ourselves from being loved.

For example, I have a friend who lost several loved ones in her life. Her mom, her aunt, her brother, her boyfriend – they all died through tragedy. She learned to hide (to protect herself) by keeping a relational distance to people she really liked. She was afraid they would literally die and she would experience the pain of losing them. This way of hiding may have allowed her to cope when she was younger; however, this hiding was getting in the way of her being able to have a close relationship and find a husband.

So when you bring the part of yourself that you don’t like out into the light, ask yourself this question, “What does that part of me really want?” Look past the behavior and underneath the hiding. What is that part longing for? There is a deep desire that is going unmet. Maybe that part never got the love and support it needed at a younger age.

Can you feel compassion for that part? What if the tables were turned and you saw someone else that needed love and support, how would you treat them? Now turn the tables back around. Can you bring love and support to that part of you in such a way that you can receive it?

Self-Facilitated Exercise

  1. Invite Jesus to join you in this exercise.
  2. Imagine yourself being the part that you don’t like about yourself.
  3. Take on the posture of that part. Now exaggerate that posture.
  4. Step out of that part by taking a couple of steps back as if to observe that part in that posture.
  5. As you observe the posture, look beyond the posture to the heart and ask yourself, “What does that part really want?”
  6. Imagine yourself going to that part to deliver the love and support he or she really needs.
    1. What are the words he or she need to hear?
    2. When you look into his/her heart, what do you see?
    3. Imagine yourself communicating the love and support physically (through a hug, or putting your arm around him or her, or through a simple touch).
  7. Now step back into the part you haven’t liked and imagine that love and support you gave now is pouring into you.
  8. Ask Jesus to reveal to you what He wants you to know about yourself and, in particular, this part of yourself you have kept hidden.

It is important for you to know that some of the parts of yourself you have labeled as “shameful,” “bad” or “evil” may actually be good, pure and beautiful. They are simply parts that have needed ACCEPTANCE, FORGIVENESS and LOVE.

Loving Yourself in 4 Hard Steps (Part 1 of 2)

By Barry Thomas

Several years ago I was reading Janet Hagberg’s book, The Critical Journey, and came upon the infamous chapter about The Wall. I have told Janet a few different times over the years there is one page in the middle of that chapter I wish she would expound on. Each time she has responded by saying, “Maybe that is the book you should consider writing.” I have thought about this over the years and I finally set a goal to write it. I have preached some of the content in a sermon series and now I am writing some of the content in this blog – one step closer to putting it in book form. In last week’s blog post I said that the second greatest commandment is to love yourself. This week I want to begin breaking that down into some steps.

When you think of loving yourself, what comes to mind? What does it look like for a person to love herself or himself? Here are some beliefs I have about loving yourself:

  1. There is more than one right way to love yourself.
  2. Loving yourself can come in all shapes and sizes.
  3. It can be as simple as treating yourself in some way: eating ice cream, taking a nap, etc.; and it can be as difficult as setting a boundary or letting go of an unhealthy behavior.

A difficult, yet transformational, way to love yourself is to look at the shadow parts – the parts of yourself that you hide and repress. These parts are not necessarily bad. We all have parts of ourselves we don’t want others to see. Either we don’t like those parts ourselves or we believe they won’t be accepted by other people (or both). For example, a woman may have a difficult time trusting others. Perhaps there was time earlier in her life when she was betrayed or hurt by someone she trusted. She decides, maybe even unconsciously, to hide the part of herself that trusts people. Other examples of parts a person can put in to shadow are: insecurities, weaknesses, sin (lust, unforgiveness, malice), shyness, sadness, depression – anything about herself she wants to keep hidden. These parts go into shadow when we hide them or ignore them. When they are in shadow, they are not accessible to love, but the truth is: they are still parts of us. What I am suggesting is that loving these shadow parts is a way of truly loving yourself – all of yourself.

As the title of this post suggests, there are steps to this way of loving and the steps are not easy. So here we go.

The first step to loving yourself is AWARENESS – becoming aware of the parts of yourself you hide and deny. How can you become aware of things you are hiding and denying if they are hidden and being denied? There is a general rule of thumb you can use to identify these parts. You’re not going to like it, but here it is. The things you don’t like about yourself tend to be the things you don’t like in other people. When you see a speck of dust in someone’s eye, there is a good chance there is a plank in your eye made of the very same material. If you spot it you got it.

Think of a recent time somebody drove you crazy. It could be someone close to you who got on your nerves or it could be someone you’ve never met who did something to upset you. What are your judgements of that person? Is he inconsiderate? Is she selfish? Is he stupid? Is she mean? Is he bad? Is she weak? Pay attention to the judgements. Once you identify your judgements of him or her, ask yourself: “How are those judgements about me?” In other words, where in your life are you inconsiderate or selfish or believe that you’re stupid or weak?

When you can do this, you begin to identify the parts of you you do not like. You become aware.

Once you become aware, then what do you do? The second step to loving yourself is ACCEPTANCE – accepting that these parts of you you don’t like are truly part of you. Freedom can be experienced when a person can stop hiding these parts and actually begin to accept them. This is counter-intuitive to our culture. We live in a world of air brushed models, cropped out pictures and Facebook lives (posting only what I want you to see). We are taught at an early age to not let the flaws show.

Accepting these parts is not an exercise in self-pity; nor is it meant to be used as an excuse for bad behavior and poor choices. When I begin to accept the parts of me that have not previously been accepted,

  • I can learn more about myself. These parts have something to offer me. What can I learn from them?
  • I start to get in touch with my brokenness. I learn that it’s okay to have flaws and for people to see them. As a result, I am aware of my need for Jesus.
  • I grow less dependent on the approval of others in order to feel good about myself.
  • I become a more authentic person.

For me, one of the parts that I denied about myself was the part that got angry. I learned early on in life that people get hurt by anger and believed all anger was bad. So when I would get angry I would stuff it. On the inside I could be angry with someone and on the outside be smiling and saying everything was fine. I denied anger so well that I didn’t even know I was angry. Through some personal work, I started giving myself permission to get angry – to feel it – not deny it. I started paying attention to my anger. I began noticing it. Then I realized people would get hurt when I didn’t express my anger. There were times when it needed to be out in front of me in order for me to stand up for me or my family. By accepting my anger I was able to feel and access my God-given power in anger.

Awareness and acceptance are the first two steps in this process of loving yourself. Next week we will look at the last 2 steps. In the meantime, read the story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32).

  • What are some parts of yourself you wish you could change?
  • What are some parts of yourself you don’t think other people would like if they knew those parts of you?
  • Ask God to make you aware of what you hide and deny about yourself.
  • What parts of yourself are difficult for you to accept?
  • What is at risk for you to accept those parts?

The Second Greatest Commandment

by Barry Thomas

 

What is the second greatest commandment?

 

In Matthew 22, one of the experts of the Law asked Jesus, “What is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Right before that in Matthew 21, Jesus was in the Temple courts and had a series of interactions with religious leaders: Pharisees, Sadducees, law experts and Herodians. It is easy for us sit in our armchairs some 2,000 years later and criticize these men. I think we owe a lot to the guys – really. These men kept trying to catch Jesus in a religious trap. In doing so, they asked Jesus some great questions. As a result, we get a lot of Jesus’ teachings where Jesus reveals His mission and His way of thinking. For example, we get questions like, “By what authority do you do these things? Who gave you this authority?” (21:23); “Is it right to pay taxes?” (21:17); and we get teachings like the Parable of the Talents (21:33); The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1) and the teaching that we will be angels in heaven (22:23). We may not have known these things without the religious leaders trying to trap Jesus. Like a chess match, they would make a move and Jesus would make a counter move. Finally they quit trying (23:46).

 

However, in this chess match we get this great passage of Scripture (Matthew 22:34-40). I think it’s humorous. In verse 34, the Sadducees get stumped. I can just imagine that when they all huddled up to try and figure out their next move, someone got the bright idea: “We’ve been trying to trap Jesus on the miniscule points of the law, let’s try the big picture approach.” They broke the huddle and the spokesperson stepped forward. “OK Jesus, which is the greatest commandment of the Law?”

I’m not sure how the Sadducees expected this question to test Jesus. Maybe they were simply testing Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures, but I don’t think so because Jesus’ knowledge of the Scriptures was well known. Perhaps they expected Jesus to pick one of the Mosaic Laws and the law expert would give a rebuttal to whichever law Jesus picked. If Jesus picked “honor your father and mother” the rebuttal would have been “What about keeping the Sabbath?”. There were over 600 Jewish laws with over 1,000 applications of those laws. This expert was probably ready to pick apart Jesus’ answer regardless of what it was.

 

Which law did Jesus select? The Shemah. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment.” Jesus gave the one answer that could not be refuted. They were all in agreement for perhaps the only time in Jesus’ ministry. And Jesus continued, “And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

 

So what can we learn from this encounter?

 

First of all, it’s all about love. A spiritual mentor of mine was known for saying this. Not only did she say it, she believed it and she lived it. She was able to show me what it looks like for nothing else to really matter. When she said “it”, she meant everything – relationships, religion, life, creation…everything. It’s NOT about being good, not being bad, Bible knowledge, pleasing God, happiness or obedience. When I began to believe this myself, everything changed. It especially changed my ministry. As a minister on staff at a church, my job was to provide opportunities and create environments for people to experience God’s love. PERIOD! All of the Bible classes, Bible studies, worship, preaching, fellowship, prayer, etc. should lead to experiencing God’s love. If it doesn’t lead to experiencing God’s love, then don’t do it!

 

Second, love is the greatest. Jesus said this is the greatest commandment. The apostle Paul reinforced Jesus’ teaching. In 1 Corinthians 13, Paul writes about showing the most excellent way and then describes the importance of love and ends up declaring that love is even greater than faith and hope (1 Cor. 13:13). Scripture goes on to tell us that love is greater than my circumstances (Romans 8:35, 38-39); love is greater than my fear (1 John 4:18); and love is greater than my sin (Romans 5:8).

 

Finally, did you notice what the second greatest commandment is? Most people say that the second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor. They read “as yourself” as the fine print. Here is what I believe to be true: The extent to which I learn to love myself is the extent to which I am capable of loving others. In other words, the more I learn to love myself, the more I am able to truly love others. Therefore, I believe that the second greatest commandment is to love yourself.

 

As a perfectionist, I don’t like to make mistakes. It’s not the mistake itself that’s the issue. It’s the exposure I feel when I “get caught” – when my mistakes are noticeable to other people. I used to beat myself up when this happened. The self-contempt was malicious: “You are stupid! You should know better than that!” The messages would play in my head and I would want to hide.

 

Over time I have learned to give myself grace. I have learned to drop the unrealistic expectations I have of myself and love myself for who I am. In doing so, I have learned to be less critical of and more compassionate towards others.

 

 

  • Why is loving yourself important?
  • When is loving yourself selfish? Dangerous?
  • What characteristics in other people drive you crazy?
  • What parts of yourself do find difficult to love?
  • What can you do this week to love those parts of you?

 

Barry Thomas Bio

 

God’s calling on Barry’s life is two-fold: to develop Godly leaders and to help people grow spiritually. He currently works as a Senior Operations Engineer for Concho Oil and Gas in Midland, Texas. He spent a 13-year career in full-time ministry working at churches in Oklahoma City, Chicago and Midland. He has a Bachelor of Science degree in Petroleum Engineering from Colorado School of Mines and a Master of Divinity degree from Bethel Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota. He is the director of Transformation Ministries and is President of the Board of Directors for The Crucible Project (www.thecrucibleproject.org).

 

He has been married to his beautiful wife, Lori since 1989. They have two fabulous kids: Caleb and Hannah, who are both students at Colorado School of Mines. He enjoys spending time with his family and playing sports including basketball, softball, golf and rugby.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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