Archive for January, 2010

We are a full month into what was a “new year.”  I still haven’t figured out whether I prefer “Twenty-ten” or “Two Thousand Ten” but the year is well under way and I’m adjusting to a new way of referring to what year it is.

But the turning of the page of the calendar has thus far, not made much difference in the economy, or the War, or terrorism.  So the question is:  “Has there been any change in me?”

 If I’m not seeing positive changes and better habits after the first month of the new year, it’s still not too late to get started.  For today, let’s talk about what I consider to be the biggie in the category of resolutions and goal setting.

 Priorities, first things first and values.  I could call it time management but I don’t think that term quite captures it.  At the heart of every personal improvement we might choose to make in life there is the concept of priorities.  Do I wake up in the morning with an idea of what my core purpose is?  Do I give myself frequent reminders of what is at the heart of my life?  Perhaps the following will be helpful.

 Do I wake up in the morning with an idea of what my core purpose is?

 I read a story in Stephen Covey’s book, First Things First which impresses me with one of the great truths of life.  The story continues to appear on the internet and I’ve heard it repeated in speeches and sermons countless times. 

Perhaps you have heard it too.  It’s one that bears repeating.  I’ll re-tell it in my own words…..

 An expert in time management was addressing a group of eager young students.  To illustrate his lesson, he placed on a table a common 1 gallon mason jar and a good portion of palm sized rocks.  He carefully placed rocks into the jar until there was no room for any more.  “Is the jar full?”, the instructor asked.  “Yes”, said an observant student, from the front row.  “Are you sure?”, the instructor quizzed.

 “Yes…..most certainly”, the young student asserted.

 The instructor then reached below the lecture table and produced some gravel.  He carefully poured it in and tapped and shook the jar to allow the gravel to trickle down between the larger rocks.

 When the gravel filled to the rim of the jar, he asked again.  “Is the jar full?”

 By now, the students began grasping the principle being demonstrated.  “Probably not”, they said.

 “Now you’re getting it” the instructor said.  He reached once more below the table and brought up a container of sand.  Pouring it in, he tapped and he jiggled and shook until no more would fit.

 “It certainly must be full now, right?” he quizzed.  “No”, the students said, almost in unison.

 “Rightly”, the instructor said and smiled as he produced a pitcher of water from underneath the table top.  Pouring it in, he asked for the final time, he asked, “now what is the point of this demonstration?”

 Right away, one of his brightest and high achieving students blurted, “the lesson is that even when you think your schedule is full, you can fit more in”.

 “Wrong!” , the instructor asserted.  “The lesson is this:  Put the BIG ROCKS in first or you will never have room for them. “  “In other words, figure out what is most important in your life and get it in place first.  Sweat the small stuff later”.

 “Consider what you absolutely must have in place in your life: God, marriage, family, friends and service to others.  “  “Get all these things in place first and the other things will take their proper place and priority.”

 Jesus once said, “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you”  (Matthew 6:33).  That is the biggest rock of all and must go in first. 

It’s January 28th,  do you know where your priorities are?

 By the way, I recommend Covey’s book, First Things First, one of the best I’ve read on priorities.

And, oh yeah, I recommend The Bible….THE best, I’ve read on priorities.

– Gary Cleveland


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So What’s Next?

Well, it’s over.  It’s done. You know what I mean, Christmas.  I don’t mean Jesus, hopefully you and I will think about Jesus every day of the year.  But I mean the other part.  The stress, the hustle and bustle, the worry of, “Did I get them the right gift?”  All the stuff that takes our mind off Jesus. 

 As we wind down from the Christmas, we also are winding down to the end of 2009.  As we look forward to the coming of a new year, we anticipate a year as good or better than the year that is coming to pass.  So the question now is, “My New Years Resolution”.  If you are like me, it will be the same as the one last year.  I need to drop a little weight.  Wait, let me clarify that.  Last year I needed to drop a little weight.  This year I need to drop a lot of weight.  That’s how it goes sometime.  We set goals for ourselves but sometimes have trouble achieving them.

 As we approach this New Year, I ask that you make one resolution.  Actually, I ask that you don’t wait until January 1st.  You can do it now.  Be forgiven.

 Guilt is a powerful thing.  Somehow we got off track.  We have this idea that guilt is a sign of doing something wrong and the need for punishment to follow.  Nobody likes punishment, even when it’s for our own good, so we hide our guilt.  We do just about anything to hide it. 

Did you ever get into a discussion where you have absolutely no leg to stand on but continue to fight a fight you don’t even believe?  I have.

 God never meant for guilt to be acted upon in this way, but we sure seem to like it.  God meant for guilt to be a way for us to know that we have done wrong and need forgiveness.   In this way, we should be motivated to admit our wrongs to the ones we offended and ask for forgiveness and accountability to help us change.  Where it goes wrong, is our ability to forgive.  As I mentioned before, we prefer punishment so we can show the offender just how bad they are.  Sometimes we say, “I’ll forgive, but I won’t forget”, implying that you will be on the hook forever.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that wrongdoing should have no consequence. But I’m writing this to appeal to you, to what guilt is doing inside of you at this moment.  It’s time to let it go.

 Read with me a couple of stories from the Bible that show how God approaches those in need, or rather, how those in need approach Jesus and his response to them. 

 The first story is from the Gospel of Mark.  It takes place after Jesus is approached by a man named Jairus whose daughter was dying.   Jesus is on his way to Jairus’ house when this event takes place:

 So Jesus went with him (Jairus). A large crowd followed and pressed around him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years. She had suffered a great deal under the care of many doctors and had spent all she had, yet instead of getting better she grew worse. When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realized that power had gone out from him. He turned around in the crowd and asked, “Who touched my clothes?” “You see the people crowding against you,” his disciples answered, “and yet you can ask, “Who touched me?'” But Jesus kept looking around to see who had done it. Then the woman, knowing what had happened to her, came and fell at his feet and, trembling with fear, told him the whole truth. He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.” (Mark 5:24-34)

 Take a look at this woman.  She has been plagued with an illness of bleeding for 12 years.  What is meant by bleeding is her menstrual cycle.  Ask any female how she would feel about that.  It says she spent all she had on doctors but only grew worse.  She’s broke.  Not only this, but women were considered “unclean” or “untouchable” during their menstrual cycle.  So not only does this woman have nothing, but she is also shunned by her society.  But her faith in what she has seen in the one called Jesus, led her to believe that if she was able to just touch his cloak, she would be healed.  So she fights the crowd and does just that, and immediately the bleeding stops.  Now let’s look at Jesus’ response, He knows what just happened.  He stops, turns around and asks, “Who touched me?”  Based on his disciples reaction, it was obvious that many were touching him.  But one was different.  The woman comes to Jesus and falls at his feet in fear.  His response?  Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”

 She came to Jesus expecting everything from Him.  She had need and the faith that he would take care of her need.  She touched his cloak and was healed.  But that was not enough for Jesus.  He stopped, turned around and went back to meet this woman who knew his ability to free her of her burdens. 

 Now read with me a second story.  This story takes place in the house of a Pharisee named Simon.  He had invited Jesus for a meal, and a party crasher follows them in:

Now one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, so he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. When a woman who had lived a sinful life in that town learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, she brought an alabaster jar of perfume, and as she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.” Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two men owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he canceled the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?” Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt canceled.” “You have judged correctly,” Jesus said. Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

  Here we have another woman who has “lived a life of sin” coming to Jesus.  She says nothing to him, but kneels at his feet and washes them with her tears and dries them with her hair and then anointed them with perfume.  Unlike the woman in the first story, this woman comes to Jesus expecting nothing.  Her guilt has motivated her to come, but her shame tells her she is not worthy of anything.  Simon apparently feels the same as he has already sentenced her in his mind and has also condemned Jesus for allowing her to touch him.  Jesus, knowing Simon’s thoughts, intrigues him with a parable.  After Jesus convicts Simon of his sense of piety and judgment of the woman, he also convicts him of not showing any of the hospitality in his own home that the woman has.  I wonder how this woman felt as she sobbed listening to them talk about her?  I wonder what her reaction was when he told Simon, “Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little.”

This woman who came expecting nothing but to say sorry for the things she had done, got everything with those words.  Jesus says to her, face to face, eyes locked, “Your sins are forgiven.” “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

 This story reminds me of a discussion I was having with someone close to me.  I was talking about the forgiveness that God freely gives each of us, and especially about myself and my short comings.  The intentions of my friend were good, but all she kept saying was,” No, you’re a good person”.  I appreciate the compliment, but in fact, what she was asking me to do was bury all the bad things I have done and just focus on the good I have done.  God wants us to do that too, but in a different way.  Don’t bury your sins and let them eat you from the inside out.  Bring them before God and let him give you forgiveness, true forgiveness.

 God says in Psalm 103:11-12:

For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his (God’s) love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he (God) removed our transgressions from us.

 When we come before God with our deeds in hand, He not only forgives, but He forgets.  He doesn’t ask us to hold on to our sins, He removes them.  We can start over fresh.  As I talked with my friend and she tried so hard to save my “feelings”, I finally had to say, “Don’t deny me my forgiveness”.  Don’t make me bury my guilt and hold on to it when God says I don’t have to.  Let me have the forgiveness that God has promised so I can move on to becoming new. 

 Take another look at these women of faith.  One came expecting everything, the other came expecting nothing.  In the end, they both got more than they needed.  They got to see their savior face to face.  We have proof here that it doesn’t matter how you come to Jesus, what matters is that you come.  If you come boldly and expect him to receive you, He will.   If you come humbly, feeling unworthy, He will show you that you are worthy. 

 Make the resolution today.  Don’t wait until New Years.  Don’t even wait until tomorrow.  Be forgiven today.  Let go of it today.  Let God remove it from you.  He is willing and ready for you to meet him face to face, just turn around.

 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. (Psalms 51:10)

 -Pat Crowe

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It’s the “hap- happiest season of all” so goes the line of a popular Christmas song.  Lyrics like this are intended to inspire us to focus on joy and peace and good will to all men.  What a great idea!   And it is indeed, wonderful when this music inspires us and encourages us to fill this season full of  caring, sharing and togetherness. 

 But let’s face it.  Our expectations usually far exceed the realities of the season.  In fact, we set ourselves up for a cycle that courses from disappointment to disillusionment and finally, depression.  So let’s consider a few practical ideas to help us avoid being entrapped by unrealistic Holiday expectations.

 Do you remember how Christmas was for you as a child?  Recall the wish list and the endless pouring over those Christmas catalogs and sales flyers until the pages wore thin?  Wasn’t it grand how they would decorate those department stores and shops with lights and tinsel?  Christmas carols were played over the loud speakers inside and outside of the stores.  And those Christmas television specials gave us ways to savor the holiday spirit indoors as we gathered around the set.  It was the only time of the year I could stand to hear Perry Como sing.  (I know…..I’m really dating myself on that one.)   At commercial time when everyone ran to the kitchen for more egg nog, Mom would stay by the set to copy down the latest recipe from Miracle Whip.  Back in those days before anyone knew what cholesterol was, they put that stuff in everything from asparagus to pancakes.  Well, anyway, you get the message.   Christmas was a part of the national landscape.  It never dawned on me in those idyllic days there could possibly be a dark side of such festivities and gaiety. 

 This was before I came to understand that the holidays provide no real respite from the cold realities of death, disease, poverty and dysfunction.  Sadly, this time of year with its bright lights, TV specials and merriment often serves only  to contrast all the more the sad desperate issues we are facing.

 So, what do we do?   We put on an act.  We act as if everything is OK.  We fall victim to harmful myths and traps custom made to take advantage of our desire to find meaning and purpose during this season.   We become desperate to create in our homes and our lives the fantasies we see in the Christmas T.V. specials.  To mask our emptiness, we plunge into the deluge of commercialism and are tempted to run up our charge cards.  

 Let’s expand a little on some of the holiday myths and suggest a few ways to avoid them.

 MYTH No. 1    Everyone has fun during the holidays.   In reality, there are as many homeless, hungry and sick people as there are any other time of year.  There are more masks worn during the Christmas holidays than there ever were at Halloween.  To live in a state of denial during the holidays will only make the post-holiday season all the more difficult with which to cope. 

 MYTH No. 2   Families grow close at Christmas time.  The truth is,  dysfunctional and addictive behaviors don’t take a holiday break.  If anything, they become more pronounced during this period.  People typically abuse drugs and alcohol during a holiday period just as much as at any other time.  This can make it difficult for families to achieve the closeness they desire to have.  Don’t expect that a strained family relationship will suddenly become better simply because of a seasonal festive environment.

 MYTH No. 3  Christmas brings out the best in people.   The holiday season can be productive of good things but it also can encourage us to overindulge in eating, drinking, spending and sitting idle.  In fact, many times these behaviors become more culturally acceptable and are even encouraged during this party-saturated period.  These factors can arouse in people the tendency to become irritable and quarrelsome at work and at home.

 MYTH No. 4  The great energies expended in creating such a festive season will bring great rewards.  Unfortunately there is no guarantee that your great efforts will bring praise from the recipients.  Keep your expectations at a reasonable level.  Decide that you will enjoy giving to others regardless of how the gift is received.


 Focus on the Moment at Hand – Enjoy the small things.  Make a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and go over to a window where you can view nature.  Consider how  Winter is God’s way of letting vegetation slumber so it can reawaken in the Spring with all its majestic beauty, sights and fragrances. 

 Reach Out to Someone – Think of someone who could use some encouragement.  Write them a card or letter.  Give them a call on the telephone.  Pay a visit to someone who might not have visitors during the Holidays.   Have someone over to your home for a meal or holiday refreshments.

 Consider the Reason for the Season – December 25 is an arbitrary date, and no one is sure what day Christ was actually born, but the tradition of celebrating His birth is pretty special.  So, contemplate the origin of the Christmas celebration tracing back to the birth of Christ.  Consider the wisdom in celebrating Christ on a daily basis as opposed to a seasonal basis.  If you are not satisfied with your knowledge of Jesus and how his life affected history then resolve to understand him better by reading His story in Matthew, Mark, Luke and John in the Bible.  As they say, wise men still seek Him.  You will be empowered greatly by developing this relationship.

 Focus more on people than things –  Merchandisers are running full bore at this time of the year.  Advertising will seek to convince us that unless we spend lots of money on gifts we will not get the most out of the holiday.  We might also be disappointed in the gifts we received and allow that to cast a shadow over our time with people we love and care about.  Most of us might as well admit that this one carries more weight than we would like to admit.  Think it over and make a choice not to let this rob you of joy and fulfillment.

 Spend quality time with your family and friends-  Even with extra time off work during the holidays, we can allow ourselves to become a cog in the swift moving Christmas machine.  Determine that you will seek to slow down, to unwind and relax.  Allow yourself time to take a walk, play a board game with your family or phone someone you haven’t spoken with in a while.   This adjustment should leave you feeling rejuvenated and energized more than anything wrapped in even the prettiest of paper.


 It is my hope and wish for you that the holidays are joyous and productive of many good things.  I encourage you to examine the core reason for the celebration of this season.  Consider the importance of celebrating the life of Jesus Christ everyday not just during one season of the year.  Jesus came to create something more than a seasonal tribute to his birth.  He calls us to follow him….to be his people….to wear his name. 

Observe the babe in the manger but don’t forget the man on the cross.  Be moved by the story of Mary, Joseph and baby Jesus and how there was no room for him in the inn.  But make the connection about our   tendency to make no room for him in our everyday lives.  Consider the meaning and purpose Jesus can provide to a life focused on him and his teachings. 

Have a Merry Christmas!  I mean that in the fullest of Ways.

-Gary Cleveland

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Does the term, “Holy Matrimony” ring a bell?  Well, it should.   It has been an expression used for years to describe what transpires in Christian wedding ceremonies.   The origin and meaning of the term “matrimony” itself is interesting enough but I want to focus on in this article is the term, “Holy”.

This is a term having at its root, the idea of  “set apart” …… “dedicated” …… or “like no other”.

So, our marriages are to be like no other relationship.  They should be in a category unlike any other in our lives.  Sounds pretty special, right?  But there is a pitfall in going too far with even the holiest of ideas.  Let me show you what I mean.

 Marriage is sacred.  It is holy.  It is like no other.  To build a good marriage, however, you must interweave things, ideas and activities which are part of other segments of  your life.  Marriages don’t exist in a vacuum.  They exist in a context.  Therefore, to have a good marriage, a holy marriage, you must skillfully integrate your marriage into the rest of life.  You cannot compartmentalize your marriage as though it exists as something running under a different set of rules.

To make marriage work, it must exist as separate/holy yet somehow be integrated with the systems, values and behaviors which bring the rest of your world into order.

All too frequently I have heard couples lament in marriage counseling sessions  that they feel  their spouse doesn’t treat them as well as others in their life.  A wife will say, “you listen so patiently with your co-workers and you never talk condescendingly to them”.  “Yet with me, you are so critical and defensive, I can hardly talk to you.”  And a husband will similarly complain,  “You put up with imperfections in others and yet you put the hammer down on me anytime I mess up or disappoint you in any way.”

 Sound familiar?  Truth is, many of us as couples hold one another to a far more rigid set of expectations than anyone else in our life.  And we seem to think that the patience, kindness and self-control we exercise in other compartments of our life are somehow not necessary in the marriage context.

So here’s what I suggest.  Set a time with your spouse with the understanding that you will review the standards you use in all other areas of your life as your core principles.  The golden rule…. “doing unto others as you would have them to do to you”.  The fruit of the Spirit from Galatians 5….. “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control”.   Look into the scriptures for other passages illustrating the basis of what makes for harmonious, healthy relationships.

Then review them with one another.  Ask your partner how you can better express these attitudes and actions toward them.  Pray with one another.  Forgive one another.  Celebrate the holy.  Love your mate with a sacred love.  In other words, change your behavior for the better.  It’s a holy thing.

– Gary Cleveland

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I’ve always wished the Bible gave more explicit instructions to parents…

Don’t misunderstand, I know that the Bible is full of information about shaping character and that is, what parenting is chiefly about.  I realize that scripture is full of instructions about that kind of thing.

But I get questions all the time from parents asking, “How do I get my kids to clean their room?” or “My child always pitches a fit in the supermarket and I don’t know how to settle them down”.   I remember having young children and this can make for one hectic, stressful shopping day.

 I read a familiar Bible passage today and it resonated with relevance like never before.  Ephesians 6: 4 says,  “Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.”

 What struck me here is the two words, “discipline” and “instruction”.   The second one, “instruction” has, as a chief component, “talking”.  The first in the pair, “discipline”, is about “training”.

 It occurs to me that as parents, we do more talking than training.   Training is about investing time and energy into taking control of a parenting situation.  I’m convinced most of us have only minored in this parenting strategy (training) and majored in the other (talking).  The reason should be obvious.  Talking….yelling…screaming…threatening etc. can be done quickly and then a parent can get back to their phone conversation, or TV show, or housework.

 Training means a parent must stop what they are doing and direct their energy and action toward a parenting action.  More profound losses are sustained in this model, because a parent must break off a conversation with another adult, walk away from a task, or break their concentration on another matter.  Parents with other children often must break away from one parenting action to take care of another more critical situation.

 It’s no wonder parents are so exhausted.

 But I’m convinced that training, as opposed to talking, is the way children are most profoundly and positively affected.

 I have a book entitled, The 7 Worst Things Parents Do by John Friel, Ph.D. and Linda Friel, M.A.  Number 6 in their list of seven is “Failing to Give your Child Structure”.  In this chapter they outline the process of parenting by talking and training.

 Consider these words:

 “This method, by the way, is the way many excellent parents already do their teaching.  Don’t lecture your children or tell them a strategy.  Take the strategy that you use internally and talk it out loud, as you go through the task you’re trying to teach.”

 To summarize, parenting is hard work.  It requires a sacrifice of time, energy and will rob you of time you would rather spend on your own pursuits.  Bottom line:  Unless parents invest heavily in training of their children, character will be formed in other ways.  Talk alone is not enough.  It is a vital component but without training, the results will be less effective and productive.

 For further enhancement of your parenting skills, I suggest:

      1) Reading of good books on parenting.

      2) Networking with other parents of kids similar to yours in age

      3) Attend a parenting class sponsored by an agency you trust

      4) Seek counsel or guidance from those who have raised children whose lives you respect and admire

— Gary Cleveland

Square One Resources

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